Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is it Time to Create your own Succession Plan?

If you’re in a senior leadership role in a large organization, there’s a good chance there is a succession plan for your position in case you get promoted, win the lottery, get hit by a bus, leave to take a position at another company, or need to be replaced for poor performance. In smart companies, an orderly replacement of high level, critical positions is considered to be strategically important to the continued success of the company. A failure to proactively plan for succession is the same as failing to safeguard the financial assets of an organization.

Other than this handful of critical executive positions, succession planning for the rest of the organizations is usually managed by identifying “pools” of candidates that are considered to have potential to move into any number of senior leadership roles. In other words, the typical mid-senior level leadership position isn’t considered important enough to worry about if the incumbent leaves. When it happens, the organization reaches into the pool for a replacement, hires externally, or re-shapes the position in a way so that it doesn’t look anything like it used to.
Some companies would rather exclude the incumbent manager from recommending replacement candidates, as it can be seen as threatening, and when asked, they often come up with blank lists or weak candidates.
However, just because there isn’t a formal, HR-driven succession plan for your position, that doesn’t mean you can’t create one yourself.
Why would any leader want to bother, especially if they are even not being asked to?
There are at least four compelling reasons:
1. So that you are not seen as “irreplaceable”.
On the surface, being so important that no one else could replace you seems like a good deal. That’s job security, right? Well, that’s OK if you want to do the same job for the rest of your career. But if you have aspirations to do something different (like get promoted), then being irreplaceable is painting yourself into a career corner. I have been in the meetings when those decisions are made – it happens.
2. So that you can take time off with peace of mind.
Being “replaceable” has immediate, tangible benefits too. You can actually take a vacation, maternity or disability leave, or time off for some other reason without worrying about your department falling apart or being called in to clean up the mess.

3. Failure to groom a successor is seen as poor leadership.
Talent management is considered a critical competency for leaders these days. Leaders that do it well have higher performing organizations and are seen as being strategic and confident leaders. If your management looks at your position and doesn’t see a viable slate of candidates, you’ll be labeled a leader that can’t coach, delegate, develop, or let go. The heck with that promotion, maybe it’ll be time to replace you for not doing your job.

4. If self-interest and fear aren’t enough motivation, then think about your legacy.
Francis Hesselbein, considered by Peter Drucker to be one of the greatest leaders of all time, said it best: “Successful transition is the last act of a great leader”.

You’ve worked hard to make a difference, establish a vision, achieve results, and build your team. Why wouldn’t you want someone that you handpicked and groomed to step into your role and continue to build on what you’ve created?
Once you’ve made the decision to plan for your own succession, here are a few tips on how to do it:

1. Define the future requirements for your position.
Unless you’re planning on leaving next week, don’t think about the skills needed to do your job as it exists today – think about what it would take to be successful 3-5 years in the future. It’s a good exercise in strategic thinking, and it may even change the way you’re approaching your own development.

2. Assess your team.
Use a performance and potential matrix to assess your own team. Does anyone have the potential to be considered a candidate for the role as you’ve envisioned it in the future? If so, put them on your “short list” of successors.

3. Look outside of your team.
A well rounded, talented, diverse “virtual bench” should include 1-2 candidates from your own team (if they exist) and a 2-3 from outside of your immediate team. They could be from within your organization or external. These external candidates could also be part of your virtual bench for new hires or replacements on your own team.

4. Coach and develop your succession candidates.
Coaching and developing will help everyone on your team become better performers – it shouldn’t be limited to just potential successors. However, if you are preparing someone to step into your role, either short term (i.e., a vacation or leave), or long term, development has a different focus. It’s not just about helping them do their own job better; it’s preparing them to do your job through stretch assignments, delegation, training, coaching, and feedback.

5. Share your succession plan with your boss.
If you have enough self-confidence to create your own succession plan, then share it with your manager. Why? In addition to the benefits already listed above, it’s a chance to get feedback and another perspective. Who knows, maybe your manager knows something about your role’s future requirements that you were not aware of, has opinions about the performance and potential of your candidates, or has other candidate suggestions. It’s all good information to share and be aware of.

How about you – are you ready to create your own succession plan?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How Nonprofit Leaders Can Use Strategy and Technology to Enhance Organization’s Performance

Guest post by Harrison Coerver:

Many membership organizations and not-for-profits are struggling to maintain their relevance in today’s fast changing environment.  Unprecedented competition, higher expectations, accelerating technology, changing preferences and time pressures are all converging to create a challenging landscape.  At the root of the problem: weak, hidebound board leadership.

Given the strong role that not-for-profit boards have in directing their organizations, it is difficult for volunteer leaders to not to take responsibility for the plight of these groups.  Many boards of membership and voluntary organizations share three characteristics that hamstring their leadership.

First, most boards are not composed for performance.  Directors are selected based on who they know, what interest they represent or how long they have been hanging around.  Let’s face it; many on boards are along for the ride.  They have superficial levels of involvement and they engage in “social loafing” -- the propensity of those in large groups to default to a smaller group to carry the workload.  While there are leaders on boards, there are not enough of them.

Second, board leadership rarely holds themselves or their peers accountable.  Admittedly, it is difficult to challenge a non-performing director that is volunteering their time.  But, tolerating slackers marginalizes the efforts of true leaders intent on advancing the organization’s mission.

Third, tradition – not strategy – is the master of most non-profits.  This year’s board does what last year’s board did.  Officers perpetuate time-honored programs and legacy processes.  There is a lot of talk about “strategic boards” and “strategic thinking,” but most nonprofits are driven by convention and “the way we’ve always done it” mentality.  Traditions have a stranglehold on most tax exempts.

Membership, civic, and charitable organizations are in a race for relevance.  To win, it requires leadership that can craft and execute strategy: skillful, creative, and disciplined use of resources to achieve their objectives.  Strategy doesn’t just happen.  It requires leadership, focus, and work.  Successful nonprofits will embrace the following three approaches to succeed:

1. Small, competency-based boards with rigorous director selection
Most boards are too large.  They are cumbersome and consume an inordinate amount of staff time.  A five-member board is likely to be most effective in many cases.  And, directors need to be carefully selected based on predetermined criteria.  For starters, ask “What are the major opportunities and challenges we will encounter in the next five years?”  Then ask, “What kind of directors will be best suited to govern (“direct and control”) the organization given those opportunities and challenges?”

This takes time and effort, but think of the time and effort costs of underperforming boards.  It will be well worth the effort.  For those who pushback at a five member board, please show me a large board where the Executive Committee does not do the lion’s share of the work anyway.

2. Strategy-driven vs. tradition-driven governance
Boards that perform will recognize the risks associated with clinging to obsolete programs and processes that once served them well, but now threaten their relevance.  They will assess their true strengths and areas where they excel, and concentrate their scarce resources on them like never before.  To do so will require them to say “no” – something politicians can’t do, but leaders know they must.  Losing focus in today’s environment is a prescription for failure.

Directors on effective boards will eliminate waste by understanding the cost of an activity and effort that doesn’t deliver value or advance the organization towards its mission. They will eliminate unproductive effort, just as manufacturers eliminated waste in the production process to compete in global markets.  Many tax-exempts are overweight and out of shape, yet vying with lean and nimble competitors.

Non-profit leaders of tomorrow will know that purposefully discontinuing programs and activities that have outlived their usefulness frees up resources for innovation.  They can’t continue to add new services, events, and initiatives year after year without spreading resources too thin and marginalizing performance in all of them.  Leaders will learn that at times you need to “shrink to grow” as did General Motors when it eliminated Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Saab, and Hummer to focus on Cadillac and Chevrolet.

3. The technology imperative
Many associations and non-profits have been slow to adopt technology in a world that is rapidly going digital.  Members, donors, policymakers, and volunteers alike are constantly using technology from apps to streaming video to social media.  They expect non-profits to use the same technologies they are accustomed to in their day-to-day lives.  Ignoring the imperative and potential of technology is a short cut to irrelevance.

Change is particularly difficult when organizations have decades of operating based on long-standing traditions.  But, as someone tweeted recently during my keynote speech, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”  Association and not-for-profit leaders will understand the tradeoffs involved and make the necessary changes with a sense of urgency.

About the author:
Harrison Coerver is an internationally recognized strategy and planning consultant and bestselling co-author of Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations (www.raceforrelevance.com) and Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations (www.roadtorelevance.com).  He can be reached at harrison@harrisoncoerver.com or 239.281.1691

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

6 Types of Bosses

I've been involved in leadership development for a long time, so I've been exposed to a lot of bosses from all walks of life. One question people often ask me and others in this business is "If all of this leadership development stuff is supposed to be so great, then why are there so many bad bosses?"

It's a fair question. It seems like wherever you turn, there are horror stories of bully bosses, bad bosses, evil bosses, and devil bosses. Bad bosses are lampooned on shows like the Office, in movies like Horrible Bosses, in comics like Dilbert, and in books, blogs, magazines, and other media outlets.

There's a lot of attention being given to "bullying" these days, and bosses are often the bully culprits in the workplace.

It's not just some kind of anti-boss media conspiracy. A lack of respect for bosses will often show up in polls and surveys as well.

How could this be? How could so many incapable, evil-doing nincompoops end up in positions of management?

I believe these kind of bosses are the minority, not the majority. That's not based on polls or research - only on my own personal experience in working with real managers, as well as reviewing the results of hundreds of 360 assessments.

Here's my view of the world of bosses:

1. Great Leaders: 10%
These are those rare bosses that are able to consistently bring out the best in others and achieve extraordinary results. They are the ones that make a positive difference in the lives of their employees, organizations, and the world around them. They are not just the famous historical figures - great leaders are all around us.

2. Good Bosses: 40%
This is the bell curve of bosses: decent, hard working, well-intended bosses that strive to be great leaders - and often are - but don't always get it right. When given feedback, they will work on their weak areas, but don't always have the tools or support needed to improve.

3. Unskilled Bosses: 30% (sometimes referred to as incompetent)
These bosses may be new, or just never learned the basics of good management and leadership. Sometimes they had poor roles models or were never trained. They have good intentions - they are just going about it the wrong way, and get frustrated when they don't get the results they need. With proper training, coaching, and development, they can become at least good, if not great leaders.

4. Apathetic Bosses: 10%
These are the ones that for some reason have just checked out. They may have been a good boss at some point - or at least have the potential to be a good boss - but just don't care anymore. They don't embrace the role of a boss - having to manage people is just a requirement of the role that they would just as soon not have to do.

5. Jerks: 5%
"Jerks" is a subjective assessment, and everyone has their own level of tolerance when it comes to the imperfections of others. Mine just happens to be around 5%, not just for bosses, but people in general.
Jerk bosses are just jerks that somehow got promoted when they should not have. Sadly, most jerks don't know they are jerks. In fact, these are some of the bosses who think they are great leaders. They will take a good management or leadership concept, and screw it up in practice. Unlike unskilled bosses, I'm not sure if any amount of training or coaching will make enough of a difference to overcome being a jerk.

6. Bullies: 5%.
Bully bosses, like jerks, were probably always mean-spirited people but got promoted because of their hard work, technical talent, and their ability to manipulate, intimidate, suck-up, and get short-term results. In a position of power and authority, they have even more ability to push others around and make the workplace a living hell for those unlucky enough to work for them.

These last two categories are the ones we read about the most. If you search "types of bosses", you'll  find a lot of articles written about different variations of these last two, but not much about the other 90%.

Again, these percentages are heavily biased based on the the kind of organizations I've worked in and for. I'm sure, based on Glassdoor reviews, that the percentages vary quite a bit based on organizational culture.

I think the percentages are also dependant on people's life experiences, their tolerance, as well as their expectations for a boss. For example, if you've never been a boss, are fiercely independent with little respect for anyone in a position of authority, you'd probably rate ANY boss as incompetent at best.

So why are do many surveys should that 50% or more employees have an unfavorable view of their bosses? Well, if you add up categories 3-6, there's 50% right there. I also think people often have unrealistic expectations of their bosses - they are rating them against "Great Leader" standards (based on the survey questions), when in reality, that's a pretty high bar that few will ever reach. So many from the "Good Boss" category end up getting low marks in surveys.

So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my categories and percentages, and if so, why? 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Leading through Long Term Influence

Guest post by Great Leadership regular contributor Beth Armknecht Miller:

Webster’s Dictionary defines a “leader” as a person who has commanding authority or influence”. I would argue that in the 21st century it’s all about influence, not authority. If a leader only has authority and is unable to influence others, then his leadership will be short lived. And with the shortage of talent, leaders need to create sustainability in an organization.

Think about those leaders and individual contributors in your organization, whether for profit or not for profit, who may not have the title of VP, Director, or Manager yet they have followers because of their influence with others. These are the people who others listen to and respect but don’t have the title providing them with the authority to lead. They are able to use specific behaviors that align with the situation that will get others to change behaviors, opinions, attitudes, goals, needs and values.

What are the critical methods to leadership influence?

It is important to understand that influence much like leadership, is dependent on the situation that requires influence. It may be that you are trying to influence someone higher in the organization, a peer, or a direct report. All of these are different situations in themselves. Other types of situations where influence may be needed include:

• Changes to project plans 

• Support of proposals by upper management

• Agree to new assignments and tasks

• Provide necessary information in a timely fashion

• Stop ineffective or negative behaviors

 The Power Use Model outlined by Anita Hall, Extension Educator 
and Leverne Barrett, Extension Leadership Specialist of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension, depicts someone’s choice of influence tactics in terms of the “softness” versus “hardness” of the tactic. The spectrum relates to the freedom the tactic leaves the person being influenced to decide either to yield or to resist the influence attempt: 

Hard tactics give individuals less freedom than soft tactics. They are perceived as more forceful and push the person to comply versus support. Hard tactics include “exchange,” “legitimating,” “pressure,” “assertiveness,” “upward appeal” and “coalitions.” Soft tactics are considered thoughtful and constructive, and pull the person to make the necessary change. Soft tactics include “personal appeal,” “consultation,” “inspirational appeal,” “ingratiation” and “rational persuasion.” It is important to note that soft tactics tend to provide more lasting change because they create an emotion of support versus compliance by the person being influenced.

And, there are certain methods when used to influence that are generally unsuccessful. These tactics are often associated with a leader who has the authority but lacks influence. Autocratic leaders will often make demands, threats or intimidation, which will generate short-term change but no support.

When would this tactic be useful? In an emergency, demands are often necessary. A leader needs to have people move quickly when the office is on fire or the plant has been exposed to dangerous chemicals.

Yet for the most part, when soft tactics are used more than hard tactics, such as demands and threats, a leader can build influence capital. From my experience with leaders, those who are highly influential use these two tactics more than others: 

• Inspirational appeal - a request or proposal that arouses emotions and enthusiasm by appealing to other’s values and ideals, or by increasing their confidence in being successful.

• Consultation- includes others’ in making a decision or planning how to implement a change that impacts them

So what if you’re a leader with authority, you’ve got the title, how do you know whether or not you have influence with the people you are leading? My suggestion to leaders is to start taking an audit of the methods they use to influence. How much time are they using the consultation and inspirational appeal methods to influence others? And if the percent is low, how are you going to increase your soft tactic influence?

For additional information on the Power Use Model read more.

 Beth Armknecht Miller, of Atlanta, Georgia, is Founder and President of Executive Velocity, a leadership development advisory firm accelerating the leadership success of CEOs and business leaders. She is also a Vistage Chair and Executive Coach. She is certified in Myers Briggs and Hogan leadership assessment tools and is a Certified Managerial Coach by Kennesaw State University. Visit http://www.executive-velocity.com/ or http://executivevelocityblog.com/ or follow her on twitter at SrExecAdvisor.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Matrix Leaders Can Learn from Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride

The success of his nighttime ride almost 240 years ago is a testament to effective matrix leadership skills–and a lesson for today’s leaders.

Guest post by Signe Spencer, Hay Group

A few months ago, I would never have considered Paul Revere a useful example of a matrix leader. I always thought of him as the prototypical lone hero, galloping through the night shouting “the British are coming,” more or less at random, to rouse the countryside.

But then I read Paul Revere’s Ride, David Hackett Fischer’s excellent account of the people and events leading to the start of the American revolution. It turns out Paul Revere wasn’t working alone, and didn’t shout randomly as he rode.

In fact, almost nothing about his ride that night was random. Revere had spent decades laying the foundation for his overnight success. And his story has important lessons for anyone concerned about effective matrix leadership.

A colonial matrix?

When we think of early patriots today, we remember a few outsized historical figures like Samuel Adams and John Hancock, and the Sons of Liberty. But the reality was far more complex. 

The Sons of Liberty was just one of seven important Boston patriot groups involving hundreds of influential citizens. Each was loosely organized around its own focus and goals, with few connections and little or no formal communication between them.

In the same way, every town had its own militia, created for its protection and commanded by its leading citizens. There was little overlap between them, and no overarching organization or command structure uniting them.

Today we would call this assemblage a matrix – a poorly organized one at that. And veteran managers know better than to expect quick, decisive action from a poorly organized matrix.

But Paul Revere succeeded

Paul Revere, it turns out, had the exact qualities that were required to bring clarity to this confusion of colonial coalitions, and unify its divergent forces to deliver a coherent, revolutionary response.

He was a natural matrix leader, displaying the key leadership qualities that are essential to success in today’s matrixed organizations.
Revere knew the patriot groups. He was a joiner who had been active in the civic affairs of Boston all his life. In fact, he was one of only two people known to have belonged to five of the seven important patriot organizations. As a result, Revere was familiar with the activities, goals and leadership of all these groups, and was perfectly positioned to help coordinate the separate streams of patriot activities when events required.
The take-away for matrix managers: Like Revere, effective matrix leaders must have a broad organizational awareness to successfully align their group’s objectives and activities with those of parallel groups, as well as the strategic goals of the organization as a whole. They also must know where to seek the resources they need to meet their objectives, and what levers they have to push to get them. 
Revere knew people and how to influence them. Through his long record of civic activism, his broad range of interests, and his work as a silversmith, Revere not only knew most of Boston’s influential citizens, but those of neighboring towns as well. He also knew how to build consensus to accomplish common goals, and had established a regional reputation as a man of his word who could be trusted to get things done.
The take-away for matrix managers: Leaders in a matrix often lack line authority over critical team members, or over gatekeepers who control critical resources elsewhere in the organization. The ability to understand people and their motivations – and to use the tools of influence and persuasion to enlist their support and assistance – is vital to successful matrix management.
Revere took initiative in guiding a collaborative solution. He spent months visiting and talking with local leaders in Boston and surrounding towns, helping to forge unity and create a specific plan of action to counter an anticipated British move against the armory in Concord. When the time came, Revere didn’t shout from horseback to just anyone; he rode to prearranged homes and roused the residents, who in turn notified other key individuals, activating a cascading communication network that he had helped to create.
What it means for matrix managers: Successful matrix efforts almost always require thoughtful preparation to create the conditions that will support a positive outcome. Keen organization awareness and outstanding influence skills are empty assets unless matrix leaders take the initiative to use them to lay the groundwork for success, and guide their teams to create collaborative solutions that meet organizational goals.

Leadership you can learn

No business wants managers running through the halls shouting, “The competition is coming.” But as more organizations shift to matrix structures, the leadership skills that the real Paul Revere possessed are in greater, and growing, demand.

Yet many organizations find that good matrix leaders are in short supply – in large part because veteran managers accustomed to traditional, hierchical roles are not necessarily prepared for the very different demands of a matrix.

Fortunately, the skills required of effective matrix leaders can be learned – and your organizational patriots can be ready and waiting when the competition arrives.

Signe Spencer is a senior consultant and global practice leader for capability assessment at Hay Group, and has researched successful leadership practices in matrix structures.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is that Development Goal Really Worth it?

When it came to individual development planning and coaching, I never used to be a fan of adding a lot of muckety-muck to the process. I’ve always felt that way when it comes to most HR and leadership development processes – simple is always better.
I’ve developed that perspective from devoting my career as an internal practitioner working with a lot of busy, impatient, hard-charging executives. Given the nature of succession planning cycles, most of them ended up scrambling to create individual development plans (IDPs) at the last minute all at the same time, and it was my job to help them. Out of necessity, I perfected the “45 minute drive-by IDP”.

However, I’ve learned that there are times when it’s important to slow down, step back, and take the time to think through the implications of a development plan. After all, it’s relatively easy to create a spiffy looking plan with all of the right buzz words, but its hard work to actually change your behavior. Way hard! When the going gets tough, people can give up, throw up their hands, and tell themselves and others “that’s just the way I am”.
One way to increase the chances of changing behavior is to ask yourself or others that you are coaching a few “return on investment” (ROI) questions before a development goal and actions are committed to. Taking the time to consider the implications of changing – or not changing – will help create the internal motivation, ownership, and commitment to change.

While you don’t need to add a section to your IDP, I’d recommend that you write down your answers to the following questions:
1. If I get better at (add the behavior you want to improve), one benefit will be: ________. Don’t be satisfied with one of two benefits – keep asking the question. Sometimes the most valuable benefits take a while to bubble up.

2. How will the company or my organization benefit? See if you can connect the dots to your organization’s mission and measurable objectives.
3. How will changing this behavior help me achieve my business and personal objectives?

4. What will happen if I don’t change?
5. What will be the cost of changing this behavior? Even where there are lots of benefits to change, all change comes at a price. What will you lose by changing? What will you have to give up? How much effort will it take?

Once you’ve answered each of these questions (or the person you are coaching has), decide if it’s really worth changing the behavior. People won’t change their behavior if they don’t want to – and neither will you. Even if there a lot of positive benefits to changing, it just might not be worth the cost and effort. The point is, you (or someone else) need to make a decision. Only then should you move on to deciding how you’re going to change. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.
Learning a new behavior, or eliminating a bad habit, takes a lot of discipline, practice and a dose of humility. No one gets it right the first time, and it takes up to a year to get completely comfortable with it. Going back and reviewing the answers to these five questions might just give you the inspiration you need to stick with it.

Note: Credit and thanks for these coaching “ROI” questions goes to executive coaches Mary, Susan, and Marshall Goldsmith. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Engaged Employees Volunteer Their Hearts, Minds, & Imaginations

Guest post by Ray Attiyah:

I had a conversation a few days ago with somebody about how to create an engaged workforce. Hiscompany had a huge collection of training material, charts, books, pamphlets, and seminar schedules that they passed out to their people. But even with all of these resources, they were having trouble with a more basic issue – defining an engaged workforce. Is it a workforce that shows up on time for their shift? Is it a workforce that is emotionally happy at work? It is a workforce that brings up ideas to improve their workplace? What is it?

When he asked me what his company’s definition of “engaged workforce” should be, I responded, “What do you want it to be?”

And I answered him this way because engagement isn’t something that’s precisely defined. How would a parent define a good child? It’s not just about how he or she feels about the kid on a particular day. And it’s not just about a checklist of behaviors that the kid completes. It’s a combination of both feelings and behaviors. Engagement occurs when employees feel that the direction of the organization is a direction that satisfies their personal objectives. Employees are engaged when they feel that they are working for themselves, that is, they are working to meet their own goals, not just to make their boss happy.

When employees are engaged, they are investing their time in something that is meaningful to them and right for them. They show their engagement through their voluntary behaviors. One of my favorite sayings is “We rent people’s hands and their backs, but they volunteer their hearts, their minds and their imaginations.” That to me is a really good way to think about engagement – it’s when people volunteer their hearts, their minds and their imaginations.

So the question is when will people do that and when will they not? They won’t do it if they don’t believe in what you are doing. They won’t do it if they don’t believe they are being appreciated for what they do. They won’t do it if they don’t feel as though everybody else is putting forth a good effort. And they won’t do it if they feel their managers are not helping them. People engage when they believe in a purpose, feel appreciated, and have the environment to succeed.

Leaders define standards. What you promise and how you define employee engagement is fine, but realize that the best and brightest talent, as well as customers, will gravitate to the organizations with the boldest promise with a robust reputation of delivering upon their engagement promise.

Ray Attiyah is a serial entrepreneur and author of “The Fearless Front Line: The Key to Liberating Leaders to Improve and Grow Their Business.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Do You Know What Your 3 Greatest Strengths and Weaknesses Are?

I was helping out our Career Services team last week by being an interviewer for some of our soon-to-graduate senior business majors. Although I have my own preferred way on doing selection interviewing, I was provided with a list of standard questions and was asked to stick to the script.
Two of the questions were:

1. What you’re your greatest strengths?
2. What are your greatest weaknesses and what are you doing to overcome them?

One of the student candidates nailed them both! She had very specific and authentic answers for each question, along with a story to illustrate each strength and weakness. The strengths were highly relevant to the position she was interviewing for. The weaknesses less relevant, but she skillfully used the question to show humble self-awareness and the desire to develop and improve.
The other three candidates didn’t do so well with the questions, which somewhat surprised me. I always thought those lame questions were two of the most overused interview questions used by inexperienced hiring managers. Anyone in the job market, or soon to be in the job market, should at a minimum have answers for those questioned memorized and rehearsed. They paused, they stumbled, and they rambled on, and eventually were able to sweat their way to the next question.

I was happy to give them constructive feedback. (-:
However, as I think about the work I’ve done with very seasoned successful executives, maybe I was too hard on those 20 something year-old students. When faced with the results of their 360 degree assessment reports and feedback, I’d say at least half of the executives I’ve coached didn’t have a clear handle on what their greatest strengths and weaknesses were. Or, even if they thought they did, there was a mismatch between the person they thought they were and how they were perceived by others.

Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses isn’t just important in acing interviews and landing a spot on a television reality show. It’s also important in order to be a successful leader. “Blind-spot” weaknesses, often manifested as over-used strengths that may have served as leader well early in their career, will most likely derail a senior leader if not identified and addressed. Attention to detail turns into micromanaging; confidence turns into arrogance, and being a good problem solver leads to an inability to delegate and develop others.
How aware are you of your strengths and weaknesses? If you haven’t already, could you answer the two questions about greatest strengths and weaknesses any better than our students did?

I could have two years ago when I was interviewing for my current position, but if I had to honestly answer the same questions today, I’m sure my answers would be different.
So here’s what I think we need to do:

At least once a year – about as often as we should get an annual performance review and be updating our resumes – take a few moments to answer those two questions. Then, if you have a weakness or overused strength that’s hindering your performance as a leader, create a development plan and do something about it. If you’re not sure what your strengths or weaknesses are – or want to verify your self-assessment (which in most cases is pretty inaccurate), get a 360 degree assessment and engage an executive coach to help your sort out the results and create your development plan.
If you can’t do a 360 or afford a coach, then at least ask others – your boss, coworkers, and employees – for their feedback. That’s what the most successful leaders do – they are always on the lookout for blind spots, and know when and how to adapt their behavior to the context of the situation they are faced with.

Don’t wait for that next job interview to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses – do it on a regular basis, as a part of your ongoing development as a leader.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Executive Presence: What’s Your “Talk Track”?

Guest post from Elizabeth Freedman (originally published 12/6/2012 on the Bates Communication blog). Elizabeth is one of the instructors in our upcoming UNH Woman's Leadership Development program.
In my work as an executive coach, I meet at least once a month with each of my coaching clients. I often talk to them on the phone and exchange emails with them as we work on their real-time business challenges.

So what happens in those conversations? Recurring themes start to come up. I find that many leaders have a “talk track” of words and phrases that they use all the time—without always being aware of the impact. For better or worse, this talk track ends up becoming part of their executive presence and their brand as a leader.
One of my clients had a talk track for many years that led to a reputation for negativity. In one meeting alone, I noticed that he had described about ten different work experiences as “nightmares.” Strong word! So we talked about this talk track. And the next time I heard him lapse into that way of talking, I decided to delve into it. “What I just heard from you was an example of that ‘talk track’ we’ve talked about,” I said. “So let’s talk about this. You say it was a ‘nightmare.’ Okay—why do you call it a nightmare?”

The upshot was that he had made a sales presentation but didn’t get the deal. I said, “Let’s use accurate language to describe the situation.” Was it a nightmare? No. Maybe it was a disappointment. Maybe he could have said, “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the deal” or “They decided to go with another vendor” and state why, objectively. My goal was to get him to stop “catastrophizing” when something didn’t work out.
This leader didn’t want to be defined by that negative “talk track” anymore. So I told him that the only way to do that is to turn up the volume on a very different talk track—one that captures the brand and presence that you want to project.

I’ve had clients who always talked about how difficult or challenging or complex things seemed to them. You’ve probably had a boss or colleague with any number of talk-track themes:

  • “I’m so exhausted/overwhelmed/unhappy/unappreciated….”
  • “Everyone here is useless/stupid/incompetent….”
  • “It’s such a difficult environment/project/client/travel schedule…”
  • “That will never work/We won’t get that deal/It’s a dumb idea/What were they thinking?”
Often people aren’t even aware of how much they harp on a conversational theme and how negatively this lack of executive presence is affecting their professional brand. So what can you do to make sure your talk track is working for you and not against you as a leader? Take these four steps:

1. Identify your talk-track themes.
What are the words and phrases that you find yourself constantly using in conversations at work? Write down the things you seem to say almost every day—or think about what themes come up all the time for you in conversation at work or elsewhere.

2. Consider the impact of your talk track.
As a leader, your words carry more weight than others. You’re setting the tone for your team or division or organization. Whether that tone is absurdly optimistic, cynical, critical, upbeat, energized, or overly emotional, it’s going to be the model for others. Make sure that your talk track is consistent with the values and behaviors you want to drive.

3. Challenge the reality of your talk track.
How accurate is your talk track? Do you have a natural tendency to see the part of the glass that’s empty? How do you respond to setbacks? Do you gloss over the pain? Do you make a mountain out of a molehill? It’s crucial for leaders to be balanced, objective, and real about what’s happening. Your language choices need to reflect that.

4. Consider what you could say differently.
It’s easy to lapse into your talk track. When you catch yourself saying the same old things, try to catch yourself as if an alarm was going off. Can you find another way to say it—something that’s consistent with the brand and presence you want to project.

Don’t get me wrong. Leaders do need to be “real” about challenges and setbacks, and a somber tone may be appropriate and even helpful at times. The goal is to become more aware of your talk track and what it’s doing for you and others. As a leader, people take their cues from you. Before you know it, your talk track can dominate or drive the culture.
Changing your talk track is a challenge. Our ways of talking and viewing the world are pretty ingrained through several decades of life experiences. But change is also very possible. Pump up the volume on a more positive talk track for the holidays, and your presence will be viewed as a gift.

Elizabeth Freedman is an executive coach and senior communications consultant with Bates Communications. She spent over 15 years as a global brand and marketing consultant, working with large companies in the financial services, technology and consumer products industries on behalf of the global consulting firms Accenture and marchFIRST, as well as in her private coaching and consulting practice. Elizabeth enjoys working closely with her clients to help them lead, persuade, and strategically influence their stakeholders.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to Confront an Employee Performance Problem

This post was recently published on SmartBlog on Leadership:
In all of the work I’ve done in management development over the last 20-plus years, if I had to pick the one thing that managers at all levels either won’t do, can’t do, should do or could do it better, it’s having the will and skill to sit down with an employee and have the tough conversation about performance.
In the life cycle of management development, we tend to view this as “supervision 101.” And it’s true — learning how to handle a performance problem is one of the very first things a new leader should learn how to do. The problem is, for whatever reason, they just don’t. Instead, they often develop all kind of ways to work around performance problems as they work their way up to the executive ranks.

They develop the ability to think strategically, lead change, make a great presentation and other executive skills, but it’s like they skipped class when this skill was taught. Then, usually when it’s too late, they’ll call in HR or hire an executive coach to do their dirty work for them, as handling a performance problem would be a task beneath their pay grade.
Am I being too harsh or cynical? Here’s why it ticks me off so much: In the worst-case scenario, some poor employee ends up doing what they thought was good work for their entire career in a company and ends up finally getting let go because no one had the courage or ability to deal with it while there was still time to fix it. It’s sad, and it should never happen, but it does.

So, because the problem still exists (and it still gets me fired up), here’s an update from a post I wrote about three years ago. It’s based on a methodology I learned when I first started training new supervisors, and it’s still as effective now as it was back then.

The roadmap:

1. Get your ducks in a row (preparation):
Something’s happened that has brought the performance problem to your attention. It’s either some objective performance data (sales numbers) or some kind of behavioral issue (falling asleep in a meeting). Gather all the data you can – get input from other sources if you can. It’s like CSI work – you’re gathering evidence to be able to convince yourself first, then the employee.
Then, write an outline of what you want to say and how you want to say it. If it’s serious stuff, you’ll want to involve your friendly local HR person. No, really – involve them. This is when you’ll realize how valuable a good HR pro can be. They deal with this stuff on a regular basis.

Schedule a meeting — allow an hour — in a private location (closed door office or conference room). There’s no good time to have this kind of conversation, but Friday afternoon might be about the best.
Finally, step back and check your motivation. The objective of this discussion should be to truly help the employee – not to punish them or let off steam just to get it off your chest. Having the right frame of mind going into the discussion will set the tone and make all the difference.

2. Explain the performance issue.
Forget the friendly small talk — just get to the point. In a calm and conversational manner, explain to the employee what the performance issue or behavior is and why it concerns you. There are a couple models for doing this:
  • SBR (Situation, Behavior, and Result): “In our meeting this week, you fell asleep. I had to wake you up and embarrass you in front of your peers.”
  • BFE (Behavior, Feeling, and Effect): “When you fell asleep in our meeting, I felt like you were not interested in what I had to say. That sets a poor example for the rest of the team.”
However you do it, you’re basically helping the employee understand what exactly you are concerned about and why it concerns you. Not too harsh and judgmental, but don’t sugarcoat it.

3. Ask for reasons and listen.
This is where you give the employee a chance to give their side of things. Don’t ask: “So — what the hell were you thinking?” Instead, try something like: “So help me understand how this could happen?”
The key here is to really listen — for facts and feelings. There may be some legitimate reason for the problem; there usually is, at least from the employee’s perspective. Understanding the real underlying causes will help you and the employee do the next step, which is:
4. Solve the problem.

That’s the whole point of the discussion, right? Eliminate the causes and make the problem go away. A lot of managers seem to lose sight of that. It’s also a coaching opportunity for the employee to learn and develop.

This really should be a collaborative discussion. In fact, it’s best to ask for the employee’s ideas on solving the problem first. People support what they create. The employee’s idea may not be as good as yours, but they’ll be more likely to own it and have success implementing it. If you’re not confident the employee’s idea is going to work, you can always add your own as an additional idea. The key here is to make sure the employee is committed — which leads to the next step….
5. Ask for commitment and set a follow-up date.

Summarize the action plan, and ask for the employee’s commitment. They need to say it to own it. Then make sure to set and agree on a follow-up date to check in on progress. That way, if the initial ideas are not working, you can come up with additional ideas. You also let the employee know you’re not going to let it slide.
6. Express your confidence (and possible consequences).

If this is just the first discussion, and not a serious infraction, then there’s no need to mention consequences. However, if not, then you’ll need to make sure you clearly describe what will happen if there is insufficient improvement in performance or if the behavior does not improve. Either way, end it on a positive note — by expressing your confidence that the solutions you’ve both come up with will work. I realize this is hard to do if you don’t sincerely mean it; if that’s the case, then don’t say it.
There you go. After the meeting, document the discussion, and keep it in your employee file. Then, make sure there’s follow-up.

A lot of good employees screw up now and then. In fact, at some point in our careers, we all do. If you follow this process, you’ll get most of them back on track before it gets out of hand.

Monday, April 1, 2013

No Joke: The April 1st, 2013 Leadership Development Carnival

Welcome to the April 1st, 2013 Leadership Development Carnival!
I’ve never been a fan of practical jokes, so April fool’s Day is one of my least favorite days of the year. However, this year is different, because I get to host the April Carnival and bring you an outstanding collection of the “best of the best” in leadership development.

All are recent posts are fresh picked within the last two weeks – and guaranteed to help you grow as a leader. There’s not a weed in the entire bunch!
Before we get started, I wanted to share a little Carnival trivia with you. I started hosting this Carnival in July, 2008, my second year of blogging. The inaugural edition included over 30 submissions. Only one of them, Wally Bock from Three Star Leadership, and one of my early blogging mentors, is still a regular contributor and included in this month's edition (Mike Myatt and Mark Stelzner still show up now and then). I clicked on a few of the others, and most are no longer blogging, and a few are still around but I've not heard from in a while.

Most of the bloggers included in today's Carnival are regular contributors and share the hosting duties every other month. I've gotten to know many of them, and I have to say, they are an outstanding community of professionals. Managing this Carnival gives me a reason to connect with each of them, keep up with their blogs, and discover some new ones each month. I've hope it's helped do the same for you, and you enjoy reading it every month as much as we enjoy hosting it for you.

Wally Bock from Three Star Leadership presents The Key to Engagement. “Supervisors are the key to engagement. What are you doing to select and prepare better supervisors?”

Jim Taggart from Changing Winds blog presents Big-Bang in Practice: Antifragility, Innovation and Leadership.

Sharlyn Lauby from HR Bartender presents Is Leading While Learning Really Effective. “In a “do the job then get the job” world of work, is leading while learning really effective?”

Joel Garfinkle from Career Advancement Blog presents How to stop employee turnover in the first 90 days. “We seem to have a particular problem keeping our new hires from jumping ship. Turnover in the first 90 days is the main area of concern. Here are three steps you can start taking right away to turn your situation around.”

Bernd Geropp from More Leadership presents Five Questions you should ask before holding a meeting! “Lots of managers spend 50 % of their time at work in meetings.
Many meetings are just a waste of time. They are boring, they don’t serve a purpose.
If you want an effective meeting you need to answer 5 crucial questions before you hold the meeting… “

Linda Fisher Thornton from Leading in Context Blog presents Which of These is Ethical Leadership? “The graphic in this post illustrates the point that leaders are interpreting “ethical leadership” at very different levels. Which one of the 3 represents ethical leadership”

Mary Jo Asmus from Mary Jo Asmus presents Embracing Feedback. “For those who want feedback but haven’t yet learned to fully appreciate it.”

Jesse Lyn Stoner from Jesse Lyn Stoner Blog presents Let's Stop Confusing Cooperation and Teamwork with Collaboration. “Using collaboration, cooperation and teamwork interchangeably dilutes their meaning and diminishes the potential to create powerful, collaborative environments. This post defines the difference, discusses Marissa Mayer's memo that she was recalling remote Yahoo employees back to offices in order to promote collaboration and explains what is required to create a truly collaborative environment.”

Julie Winkle Giulioni from juliewinklegiulioni.com presents Building the Bench. “Recent research suggests that just as many organizations are beginning to feel that they’re stabilizing after a long period of economic uncertainty, they may in fact find themselves facing a new and unexpected challenge: deficient management bench strength. This post spotlights an under-leveraged approach to addressing this issue... while at the same time driving business results.”

S. Chris Edmonds from Driving Results Through Culture presents WOW Your Customers, Grow Your Business. “How employees treat customers has a huge impact on your business' buzz . . . and your business' revenues.”

Randy Conley from Leading with Trust presents Trust is….Trust is…” – How would you complete that phrase? Trust means something different to each person, and in this reflective post, Randy shares thoughts on what trust is to him and he invites you to add to the list by completing the phrase, “Trust is…”

Steve Roesler from All Things Workplace presents Self-Leadership & 3 Key Variables.  “When it comes to making career and leadership changes, there are three variables that come into play. If you are wrestling with where you are right now, this may help you clarify where you need to focus your energy and your effort.”

Tim Milburn from www.timmilburn.com presents Five Ways To Turn Your Crisis Into A Comeback. “Leadership is difficult (even in your own home). This heartfelt post was written from my own personal experience of moving forward in the face of failure.”

Bill Matthies from Business Wisdom What I Will, What I Won't. “While the philosophic take on this is what we will resist versus what we will attempt to maintain, the business version is about spending or saving resources. In Vegas, knowing when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em. It's not easy is it?”

Dana Theus from InPower Consulting Blog presents The 3% Leadership Revolution: A (Missed) Opportunity for Women. “There is a quiet leadership revolution going on, a shift in the definition of success from “what” to “how.” In times of major change, the underdog has a strategic opportunity to end up on top. In this revolution, the women-in-leadership underdogs have a unique opportunity to capitalize on it and use it to define our leadership careers – to play a leadership role in the revolution, so to speak – or miss our chance at squeezing out from under the dominant culture that keeps women and men (both!) from valuing what women bring to leadership table.”

Bruce Lewin from Four Groups' Blog presents Why is Understanding People So Hard.
“The lack of well recognised tools and techniques that help us better understand people through reliable predictions undoubtedly contributes to the fact that understanding people is hard. Taking this conclusion at face value, it’s then easy to see how some managers don’t want to get involved in ‘people’ issues and instead they prefer to pass the problem to HR. Time will tell how long this situation endures but given the 50 year time frames above, it’s difficult to see this cliché being consigned to history any time soon.”

Miki Saxon from MAPping Company Success presents You are NOT Your Company. “Ego-merge has an out-sized negative effect on people and companies, yet it is rarely, if ever, recognized, let alone discussed.”

Karen Kanakanui from Lead Change Group! presents a post by Karin Hurt called Why Doesn’t My Team Feel Recognized? “You’ve served up regular recognition cocktails of programs, plaques, bonuses, and fun. You’ve spent lots of money… you’ve put in heartfelt effort. And then… the employee survey results come in. It’s not enough. They want more. What if your recognition cocktails don’t work?”

Lolly Daskal from www.lollydaskal.com presents Leadership: Disappointed To The Core. “If you meet a leader who’s a loner, who doesn’t communicate, who’s not engaged, who seems removed and not trusting, it’s probably not because they enjoy solitude or disengagement. It’s far more likely that they have been disappointed. There will always be people and events that will let us down, and when that happens it can shake us to the core.”

Kevin Eikenberry from Blog: Leadership & Learning presents Leading in Living Color. “Too many leaders think they can leave their real selves at home, leading from a place of policy, procedure and a pursuit of perceived perfection. If you want to be a more effective leader, be real and relatable. Lead in living color.”

Anna Farmery from The Engaging Brand presents What is the definition of empowerment. “People often mistake delegation for empowerment, yet in a networked world empowerment becomes even more vital.”

Susan Mazza from Random Acts of Leadership presents The Key to Being Adaptable. “If you want to be adaptable you must be willing to let go of one particular need.”

Wendy Appel from The Enneagram Source presents I Choose Now.

included in next week's Leadership Dev'p carnival. It was originally published on my blog

Jon Mertz from Thin Difference presents Follow / Unfollow – Making Relationships Work. In business and life, there are people we associate with and build relationships with. The key questions are: Who do we follow, and who do we unfollow?”

Karin Hurt from Let's Grow Leaders presents Humility and Leadership: Can We Teach Leaders to Be Humble? “Is it possible to teach humility?”

David Burkus from LDRLB presents Do You Have Executive Presence? “David Burkus examines the research on "executive presence" and its role in developing leaders.”

Robyn McLeod from The Thoughtful LeadersÔ Blog presents Your strengths can hurt you, “where she shares four tips to avoid having your strengths turn into derailers.”

What does the Millennial generation seek in leadership development opportunities and do generational stereotypes get in the way? As part of her article research for the Huffington Post on “filling the leadership pipeline” Jennifer V. Miller of The People Equation interviewed what Gen Y professionals had to say in Gen Y and Leadership: Young Professionals Speak Up.

Neal Burgis, Ph.D. from Practical Solutions Blog presents Coloring Outside the Lines of Your Leadership. “Many leaders are known as unconventional, non-traditional, and even trailblazers. These individuals step over the boundary lines to be creative and implement their creative side in business, and sometimes in everything else they do. Coloring outside the lines is primarily about stepping outside your comfort zone & take a risk to be creative with your thinking skills. This is where you get to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Mary Ila Ward from The Point Blog: Sound Advice for Career and Leadership Development presents Questions for Striving Servant Leaders. “This post examines if you are truly acting like a servant leader by questioning where is your car parked and where is your nursery located.”

Joan Kofodimos from Anyone Can Lead presents Why are you so swamped? “Most causes of managers' work overload aren't in the nature of the work - they're from within the manager. Understanding your own patterns and what you do to keep yourself swamped is key to getting un-swamped, and key to making the transition from managing to leading.”

Anadi Upadhyaya from TalentedApps presents Getting it Right: 100KM, Team of 4 and 48 Hours. “A great story about the four C’s of Shared Goals: Criteria, Communication, Change and Collaboration.”

Bret Simmons from Positive Organizational Behavior presents How we enhance our organizational citizenship. “The evidence on what makes us more likely to be good citizens at work”.

Nick McCormick from Joe and Wanda on Management presents Listen Up Managers. Don’t Forget to Change Your Oil. “Advice on listening from Greg Blencoe's book, The Supermanager”. 

Next month's edition will be hosted by Karin Hurt on May 6th at her Let's Grow Leaders Blog.