Monday, October 28, 2013

10 Tips for Hiring Great Employees

This post first appeared in Smartblog on Leadership on 10/24:

I feel like I’m a little out of my element when it comes to giving recruiting advice. While I’ve written over 700 posts on leadership and leadership development, I tend to steer clear of hiring topics and defer to the real experts, like Jennifer McClure, my friends at Fistful of Talent and a gazillion others in this space.

But I’ve done my share of hiring over the last 25 years. I’ve whiffed on a few, for sure. Like the time I hired a trainer with a master’s degree and a great resume over another with “only” an associate’s and less experience. I should have paid attention when I heard candidate A actually swore at someone during a training program. That’s what happens when you fall in love with a candidate’s stellar credentials, you tend to ignore those red flags.

She ended up swearing at me a few times, too. Live and learn.

Fortunately, I’ve more recently hired some great employees. I’m sure there was some dumb luck involved, but I’ve also picked up a few best practices over the years that may work for you as well. I’m sure you have too, so please feel free to share a comment.

1. Commit to investing time and get personally involved.
HR and recruiters can be a valuable resource (if you have them), but the most important person involved in the process is the hiring manager. You need to clear time on your calendar over the next several weeks to invest in the process. Unless you work in a high-turnover business, we don’t get the opportunity to hire very often. One bad or good hire can make or break your team. The cost of a bad hire can run in the six figures!

2. Have a clearly defined position description.
It all starts with being clear on what type of skills and experiences will be important to the role. Having a clear profile will help screen people when you advertise the position, develop your interview questions and selection criteria, provide direction for onboarding and further development, and for other HR stuff like pay grade and performance evaluation.

3. Create a talent funnel.
Cast a wide net, and then narrow the pool through resume and application review and phone screens. For one position, a good rule of thumb would be 100 candidates, 10 phone screens, five final candidates for in-depth interviews, and one hire.

The time to start recruiting is before there’s an opening. The best candidates come through networking and personal referrals, especially if those referrals are great employees (great employees know and attract other great employees).

4. Phone screens.
I like doing my own phone screens. They only take about 30 minutes each, and I’m not relying on secondhand information. In a phone screen I’m looking for motivation, fit, and salary requirements. I like to handle the money part right in the beginning, so as not to waste the candidate’s time or my own.

5. Use a structured interview guide.
I use the Topgrading “CIDS” interviewing technique (or Chronological In-Depth Structured Interview). I learned the Topgrading hiring method from Brad Smart at my last company and since I’ve been using it, I’ve dramatically improved my ability to hire “A players.” I like it because it gives me structure, candidates find it less stressful than making up answers to the more commonly used behavioral-based interview questions (“tell me about a time when you …”), and it works like a charm!

The important thing is to use some kind of structured interview guide — a consistent set of questions that allows you to really assess the character of a candidate. Don’t think you can just pull out the candidate’s resume 10 minutes before the interview and wing it! It never works, and you end up looking like a buffoon.

6. Resiliency and a track record of success.
These are the most important things I’m looking for in a candidate. I want to know how they’ve handled themselves during tough times and see a pattern of measurable achievements from one job to the next.

7. Hire for competence and “likability.”
This is just my personal preference, but at the end of the day, I want to work with people I like. I want them to be a good fit for my team, and to be able to get things done without ticking people off. Life is too short; you may as well enjoy the people you work with. Of course, competency is important; I’m just saying look for both.

8. Do your own reference checks.
Another technique I learned from Topgrading is to let final candidates know up front that I’d like to talk to at least three of their former bosses. I ask them to contact these bosses and get their permission. When they know upfront I’ll be talking to their former bosses, it’s like truth serum! I’ve never had a former boss refuse to talk to me. If they won’t, it should be a red flag. Bosses of A players love to sing their praises. Bosses of C players will hide behind company HR policy, or use vague weasel words to describe their former employee.

I always ask what the employee’s strengths and weaknesses were “at the time they worked for you.” This not only gives me valuable information to confirm what the candidate has told me, along with my own assessment, but it also gives me insights to use to coach and develop my new employee.

9. Cycle time.
I absolutely blows my mind when I hear about hiring processes that drag out for months and months. We did a cycle time study at one of my former companies, and guess what the No. 1 bottleneck in the hiring process turned out to be? The hiring manager! Great candidates are not going to wait around. Set a goal to get it done in six to eight weeks, from posting to final decision.

10. Onboarding.
While technically not a part of the hiring process, way too many managers fall down when it comes to the onboarding process. Everyone remembers their first day and week on the job, good or bad, and I’ve heard some horror stories! Make it special for the employee — decorate their office/work space, send out an announcement, make sure they have a phone a computer on day one, and put together a detailed two-week plan and higher-level 90-day plan.

What else would you recommend when it comes to hiring great employees?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Success is Overrated - How to Fail Beautifully

Guest post from Lisa Demayo:

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible
to achieve: the fear of failure.”
—Paulo Coelhon

Successful people fail. And they fail with frequency. They fail not because they’re not good enough, but because they were brave enough to show up.
Failure is one of the most misunderstood concepts in American culture. So often we see it as an end result. A negative. A blemish on our records. But failure is never an ending point. It’s a result—a mere event on the way to the final destination. You either fail before you succeed, or you fail before you quit. But you never have to stop at failure.
What you really have to sink your teeth into is the understanding that failure is the only way you learn. It’s the path to leadership. And whether you realize it or not, how you choose to confront failure will greatly determine your ability to succeed.
So, when you fail, here’s how to fail beautifully.

In her beloved book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes,                                    
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life . . . I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”                                                 

Perfectionists want the world to believe that they’re so self-aware that they can do everything flawlessly if given the proper amount of time. But perfectionists aren’t self-aware; they’re self-absorbed. They think everyone is looking at them all the time, and they can’t afford to mess up.                                               

But here’s a reality check: people are too busy with the junk in their own heads to dwell on you or me. The people around us aren’t keeping a running tab of when we fail and when we succeed.                                                  

I don’t care what lies you’ve been telling yourself, let’s say this loud and clear for the record: It’s impossible to do things perfectly. Perfection does not exist! No matter who you are, there will always be someone smarter, prettier, more talented. There will always be a better time and a better place. That’s not a bad roll of the dice; that’s reality. So stop trying to meet everyone else’s expectations by putting on a show. Instead, take a look at the man in the glass. Are your actions ones you can be proud of? 

2. DON’T STOP SHORT.                                                

The sad truth is most people give up right before they’re about to achieve success, right on the one-yard line. They choose to quit rather than power through.
Have you heard the iconic story of the gold rush? A man in California was determined to strike it rich. He spent months upon months prospecting for gold in the hills. He found pockets of gold here and there, but never anything substantial. Eventually he grew tired of the process and decided that his fortune wouldn’t be found there. It was fruitless. So he sold his land and his tools to a new prospector and moved on.
The new gold prospector was a smart guy. He hired people who understood the land: an engineer, a geologist, and a land surveyor. Together they determined the best places to dig and went to work. With just a little effort, the new prospector struck the goldmine—only three feet from where the previous owner had stopped.
If you want to succeed, you have to have a long-term, big-picture focus. Our culture is saturated with overnight success stories that teach us if it doesn’t happen quickly, it won’t happen at all. We hear about these overnight sensations and, like the pictures of the skinny, airbrushed models in the magazines, we’re taught that’s the norm.
A very few people in this world will get lucky. They’ll get it right the first time. They’ll become famous at lightning speed. And good for them. But it does you no good to rely on being the overnight sensation. Instead, expect to be here for the long haul. Expect to work for it. Expect to fall flat on your face, and expect to be in for a big education. Because failing big is learning big. And that’s what makes you better.
As Thomas Edison so graciously put it, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
And find it he did.
3. DON’T BE PHASED BY FAILURE.                        
Have you ever heard Sara Blakely? At age twenty-nine, she didn’t look like someone to invest in. She’d failed the LSAT, was hawking, of all things, fax machines, and had roughly $5,000 in her bank account.
From a young age, her dad taught her to fail big. Each day he’d ask her, “So, what did you fail at today?” And according to Sara, if there were no failures he’d be disappointed. Why? Because failure is not a final outcome. It’s a pit stop on the road to success.
When Sara was twenty-nine. She was headed out to a party for the night and wanted to feel a little slimmer, so she cut the feet off of her control top pantyhose in order to wear them under her white pants. It was a much more flattering and comfortable look, and it dawned on her then that this was something women could actually use.
With the patent intact, she began shopping the idea around to a number of manufacturers in North Carolina to help her construct a sample product. According to Sara, every mill owner she approached asked the same three questions: “And you are? And you are representing? And you are financially backed by?” The answer to all three questions, of course, was Sara Blakely. She was doing it all on her own.
Most owners returned her earnest query with a quick no. She was a “nobody,” she didn’t have any connections, and she had no investors. To them, it seemed like an obvious pass. But Sara had something no outside investor could guess the value of: she had courage.
So unlike most people, the “no’s” didn’t stop Sara. They kept her going. She didn’t give up and, inevitably, luck with a manufacturer struck when he took the product idea home and told his daughters about it. And the girls, Sara’s ideal consumers, saw something in the product the slew of businessmen didn’t see. They called it what it was—brilliant— and then and there Spanx was born.
Today Sara owns 100 percent of the company. She never took one outside investor. And Spanx is now estimated to have annual sales of $250 million and very big profit margins. Not too shabby.        

About the author:
Lisa DeMayo is a self-made multi-millionaire. She is also a certified life, executive & leadership coach with more than twenty years of coaching experience, and a top-level network marketer - recognized as one of the top income earners with Isagenix.                   
Lisa lives in New Jersey with her three lovely children.                                        
To pre-order her book, ‘The Art of Getting What You Want,’ or to learn more about Lisa’s workshops, seminars and speaking engagements, visit her website:

Monday, October 21, 2013

10 Reasons Why Every Manager Should take a Finance Course

We just finished a “Finance and Accounting for the Non-Financial Manager” program this week for a large client. The audience was mostly engineers – program and project managers, the ones in charge of designing and making complex stuff. It was 3.5 days, which may seem like a lot, especially for a topic that has the potential to be deadly dry and boring.
The participant’s comments and evaluations at the end of the program reminded me of why every manager (and probably every employee) really needs to have a firm grasp on the numbers and how their company makes money.

Here are 10 reasons, all of them taken from the actual evaluations:

1. You’ll know how and why decisions are made by the big dogs.

2. You’ll make smarter decisions that are more likely to be accepted by the big dogs.

3. You’ll understand that the people or companies that buy your products are not your only customers; the shareholders that buy your stock are customers too. They have different expectations and needs, and if they ain’t happy, you’ll soon not have any customers.

4. You’ll have a better appreciation for why top management or the bean counters are always asking you to fill out those reports, budgets, forecasts, and all that other stuff that you always whine about.

5. You’ll feel more like an owner of your company. After all, it’s your money too!

6. You’ll be better able to explain to your employees what’s going on in the company, why decisions are made, and help them make better decisions. You can help them feel like owners too. Caution: when employees feel like owners, no more wasting money on expensive furniture, management boondoggles, or projects with a poor net present value. They will call you on it.

7. You’ll be able to hold your own in management and board meetings. Yes, you too can speak like a CFO!

8. You’ll be better able to understand and see the top to bottom impact of your actions and decisions. The “big picture” will no longer be just a buzz word to you and your employees.

9. If you’re a staff or support person (HR, training), you’ll earn a seat at the table.

10. You’ll be more popular and get more dates. Finance and accounting is very sexy!

Want to test your own financial acumen? See how many of the following can you explain to a 5th grader: 18 Financial Terms Every Leader Needs to Know.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Are You Feeling Disconnected As a Leader?

Guest post from Vince Molinaro, Ph.D.:

It was a tough day. I had finished leading a one-day leader forum event with a new client.  The room had the organization’s top sixty leaders of a large technology services company.
It was a company with many tough issues that they needed to confront. Their business environment was becoming more complex and uncertain. There were many multiple competing and shifting priorities. Many new international competitors were taking away market share. From an organizational standpoint, the leaders didn’t feel there was a compelling strategy they could commit to. They felt rudderless. They also felt they were operating at cross-purposes every single day. Many were feeling disconnected, discounted and undervalued. The talk of driving collaboration and innovation was just that – talk. No real action or tangible evidence of change.

As the day progressed the conversations became heavier and heavier. These leaders had a lot of baggage that they needed to empty before they could move forward.
At the core of their concerns was their frustration that every time they tried to step up as leader, they were beaten down. Ideas were dismissed from upper management. Any attempts to drive change were stopped. This was the core issue that this team of senior leaders had to confront – the poor leadership culture that they allowed to exist in their organization. Not only was it wearing them down. It was eroding the engagement of employees from across the organization.

I’ve been a business leader and leadership consultant for most of my career. In that time, I’ve learned one thing – if you can create a strong leadership culture in your organization, it can become a real differentiator for your company.
But like my new client above, many organizations don’t have strong leadership cultures.  They have deadly ones that erode confidence and commitment of leaders at all levels. Over time, many leaders give up. They end up showing up every day merely going through the motions. This makes the problems even worse.

So how do you turn an organization like this around?
First, you must set the bar high and aspire to build the best leadership in your industry. If you can, it will be a game changer for your company.

Second, you must create what I call your company’s own leadership contract. One that clearly spells out the expectations you have for your leaders and the commitment they must all make to do their part. 

Next, you must support the growth of your leaders, and weed out the ones who are not living up to your expectations.
Finally, find ways to help your leaders build relationships with one another – it’s difficult to build a community of leaders among a group of strangers.

Ultimately it’s about building a strong community of leaders - one where you will see a higher degree of alignment and engagement among your leaders. Where they show up each day committed to being great leaders and demonstrate a “one company” mindset, rather than engaging in turf wars. Where they will break down silos and drive greater innovation, collaboration, and performance.
That’s what happened with my new client. Over a series of additional quarterly meetings they were able to confront the tough stuff. They began to build a vision for the kind of leadership they needed for the future. More importantly, leaders stopped disconnecting and began to feel empowered.

About the Author:

Vince Molinaro, PhD, is the author of The New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract: The Fine Print to Becoming a Great Leader (Wiley; 2013) and the Managing Director of the Leadership Practice within Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions, a firm dedicated to helping organizations seamlessly execute their business strategies through their people. Vince advises senior executives and boards on how to make leadership culture their ultimate business differentiator. He has worked with organizations in the energy, financial services, technology, professional services, and public sectors. An engaging speaker, he conducts keynote presentations for corporations and conferences. He is also the author of Leadership Solutions and The Leadership Gap, both published by Wiley.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rev Up Your Leadership with OIL Method

Guest post by Great Leadership monthly contributor Beth Armknecht Miller:

Too often I see leaders communicating by telling...what's wrong with this technique?  First of all this is what managers do, not leaders. And, you may be missing opportunities for innovation and employee development. You see, telling may be teaching but it isn’t sustainable development.

So what is the OIL Method?

As an executive coach, I have been using this method for years and actually spend time assisting executives to develop their proficiency in this method as well. Observe, Inquire, and Listen, OIL, are the three aspects to fully understanding and developing others by improving the components of effective communication. When a leader practices these techniques effectively and consistently magic happens.  Suddenly the performance of others improves and the leader has time to do more of what she needs to be doing, leading not doing.

The ability to observe what others may not see is a huge advantage to a leader. This requires a dedicated focus to watching for nuances and subtle changes whether it is a person’s attitude, their communications, or body language. Subtle changes can be a precursor to potential problems in the future. These are some of the things you should be observing daily:

1.    Employee Interaction

How does an employee interact with others?  And whom are they spending their time with? What differences in behavior do you see when they are comfortable versus uncomfortable with others?

2.    Performance

How do they respond to performance feedback? And how do they respond to accountability? What do they do to encourage other’s to perform at great levels?

3.    Behaviors

Who is timely versus who is late? Who has difficulty making decisions? Who is proactive and bringing you solutions versus those who complain and whine? Who is making excuses versus taking responsibility?

4.    Environment and other external factors

A person’s workspace, clothing, and can give a leader clues about an employee’s preferences. Look for things that are out of place or behaviors that that are unusual for an individual or a team. And great way to observe is by MBWA, Management by Walking Around.
Most mangers and leaders underrate questioning skills, yet when you master the art of inquiry you gain better understanding, leading to better relationships and decisions.

And in order to master inquiry, you first need to define the goal you want to accomplish. Here are some goals that a leader may want to accomplish through good questions:

1.    Coaching employees to self reflect and commit to specific actions

2.    Learning about situations, people, processes, etc.

3.    Persuading others to move in a specific direction or make a certain decision

4.    Seeking clarification and understanding to redirect misunderstandings or conflicts

5.    Building existing or new relationships by asking people for their opinions

Only until you have become clear about your inquiry, can you form the appropriate questions. 

The goal of listening is to gain understanding, which means that the listener needs to not just hear noise and words coming out of a person’s mouth but understand exactly what the person is trying to communicate. This requires active listening and it is active because it takes work and isn’t natural for many of us. 

So what gets in the way of actively listening? Here are the top five things that work against a person being able to actively listen:

1.    Doing other things in addition to listening such as email, text, or other tasks that take your focus off the person speaking

2.    Personal opinions and biases can distract you from listening to the message being delivered. They can also cause you to interrupt the other person.

3.    Emotions that you have about the subject can shut down your ability to listen and understand the other person’s point of view.

4.    Not identifying what is missing.  That is, what isn’t said can be just as important as what is said.

5.    Not clarifying what you just heard from the other person. We all have our personal filters which impact interpretation during communications. Make sure you ask questions to understand and then paraphrase back to the person what you heard.

Leaders who practice these three communication skills build a reputation for increasing employee performance and making better decisions. How often do you incorporate these techniques of observing, inquiry, and listening, and how do you plan on increasing and improving their use?

Beth Armknecht Miller’s is CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. Beth is a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer. She is a graduate of Babson College and Harvard Business School’s OPM program. She is certified in Myers Briggs, Hogan, and Business DNA. And she is a Certified Managerial Coach. Beth’s insight and expertise has made her a sought-after speaker, and she has been featured in numerous industry blogs and publications. To learn more about Beth visit BethArmknechtMiller.comor

Monday, October 14, 2013

Put a Little Air in the Balloon

I heard the following simple but powerful little lesson from a Fortune 500 executive last week:

As a leader, if you want to create a culture of innovation, you need to create an environment where all employees feel encouraged to bring new ideas forward.
That’s easier said than done.

Instead, here’s what usually happens when someone comes up with a new idea....

Imagine that new idea as a balloon, about half full of air. When someone presents that balloon in a meeting, what’s the first thing we usually reach for?

Pins in the form of statements or hard-to-answer questions like “that won’t work here”, “we already tried that”, “it’s too expensive”, “that’s too farfetched”, “yeah, but…”, “did you do a 3 year rate of return analysis?”, and other balloon-popping reactions.
Pretty soon that balloon is leaking air, and it spins around and crashes to the ground or just blows up with one loud pop.

Instead, what if every leader viewed their role as “adding air to the balloons”?

Instead of pulling out our pins in the form of “yeah buts”, we add air to the idea in the form of “yes, ands”, and “what ifs”?
Instead of immediately rushing to assessment and judgment, we pause to consider the possibilities?

Sure, at the end of the day, the balloon still might pop, but at least we’ve given it a chance to get off the ground for everyone to see and consider it.
Leaders who want to encourage innovation are always trying to put “air in the balloons”. Give it a try.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Are you a Trusted Leader?

Guest post from Gregg Lederman:

Are you a trusted leader at work? You may be a bit caught off guard by this question, since it’s not something most managers and leaders are often asked, nor is it something managers and leaders frequently ask themselves.

Take a moment to reflect on this question. Do the people you work with trust you as a leader? If you are like most of the managers and leaders I’ve asked, you are probably unsure. This alone can pose problems in fostering an engaged workforce, because an engaged workforce depends on employees trusting their leaders.

The benefits of engaging your workforce are simple, straightforward and difficult to refute. An engaged workforce is more empowered and motivated to deliver a branded experience—an experience your company becomes known for because you are living the brand, delivering your company core values and promises. When a company does this, it leads to more loyal customers who buy more of your products or services and do so more often.

Achieving engagement among employees depends on your ability to earn their trust. Employees need to have confidence in you as a leader who will live the brand—live the values—and not simply try to hold others accountable for living it. Want to be a trusted leader? Think about this: How many times a day do you have the opportunity to remind others by initiating a conversation about the branded experience? Making it part of the conversation is a leadership skill to be learned, practiced and mastered over time. Mastering this skill is one aspect of managing the experience that enables leaders to remind the workforce every day about what is important and how each employee makes it happen.

Here are three ways for you to become great at reminding others to live the brand by behaving in ways that are consistent with your company’s core values and that lead to a desired branded experience.

1. Capture and share living-the-brand moments. Add 60 seconds to regularly scheduled team and employee meetings to share the success of someone who has demonstrated your company’s branded experience in a way that led to a positive outcome. A simple callout and round of applause can go a long way.
2. Conduct a 10-minute living-the-brand assessment every six months. Have employees complete a quick and easy semiannual assessment on how consistently others in their work area are living the brand. This touchpoint with employees is a terrific reminder. Two assessments a year will provide four reminders as long as you are thoughtful and strategic in sharing the results with the workforce.
3. Share the customer reality. Would you agree that your company would be better off if each manager spoke to one or two customers every week about the experience they have with your company? Of course you would. Then put the discipline into action and have managers reach out to customers and engage in a conversation about their experience, then share what is learned from those valuable discussions with employees. Share both the good and the bad.
Managing a branded experience builds trust. If you use these three ways to remind employees, you will be positioned to earn more trust by sharing your conviction for living the brand. In addition, sparking conversations with others will create an environment of open dialogue where expectations are clearer and personal responsibility rises—an environment with more engaged employees who help create more loyal customers.

About the author:
Gregg Lederman is an author, speaker, and CEO.  Gregg has made it his personal mission to help companies engage their workforce to deliver a branded experience that engages customers and drives sales and profits. His work, along with the work of the team at his company, Brand Integrity, has helped many of today’s leading companies (such as Wegmans Food Markets, Chobani, AAA, Erickson Living, and Excellus) to create work environments where employees can become more motivated and committed to delivering the experience that makes them different—that makes them better than the competition. More than 60 percent of Brand Integrity’s clients are recognized as “best places to work.”

Monday, October 7, 2013

The October, 2013 Leadership Development Carnival

The October, 2013 Leadership Development Carnival is being hosted by Lisa Kohn and Robyn McLeod from Thoughtful Leaders.
For this month’s Carnival, leadership bloggers responded to the following question:
As we move towards the end of the year, what can a leader/manager do to best prepare their team/organization for greater success in the New Year?

It’s not too early to get a jump on 2014 - you can find their answers right here

Don’t Shoot the Audience!

I attended a meeting where a high level executive was speaking to a group about an upcoming organizational change. He did all the right things – he provided information, asked for input, and gave detailed and candid answers to questions.
Actually – let me back up – good for him for even thinking to have the meeting! Proactive, frequent communication is rule #1 when it comes to leading organizational change. Too many executives hide in their offices and hunker during change and chaos. They often use the excuse of not having enough information to share (“I won’t be able to answer their questions, so why bother frustrating them or raising anxiety?”), or, just don’t have the courage to stand up and face the music.

Here’s where the meeting took a wrong turn. About halfway into the meeting, he all of a sudden sat upright, perked up, and said something like “Hey, this is going to be FUN! Why the sad faces? I’m looking around and you all look so serious and sad! What's wrong with you?!"
I thought of that line from the Joker from Batman – “Why so serious?!”

That’s when I think he lost the audience.

As the meeting went on, I looked around, and a few members of the audience were doing their best to maintain forced Joker-like ear to ear smiles, in order to please the executive.
One person was brave enough to attempt to provide some context to him to explain what he may have perceived, but he quickly dismissed the reason because that wasn’t how he had felt during changes like this one. Again, he judged and placed blame on the audience for not giving him the response he was looking for.

I’ve seen speakers; trainers, entertainers, athletes and countless executives do the same thing. Some are complete meltdowns; others more subtle. They are all doing the same thing – blaming the audience for their own inability to connect with them.
At my last company, the sales organizations hired a famous Olympic gold medal winner to come in and fire up the sales reps. Unfortunately, while he was a heck of an athlete, he was a train wreck as a speaker. His jokes were falling flat, and he was talking way down to the audience. Finally, he had had enough and he proceeded to tell the audience what a bunch of losers they are were. Mind you, this was an audience full of award winning sales reps.

We’ve all been there. You’re in front of a group, and you get the feeling something’s wrong – you’re bombing. You don’t want to ignore it and plow on, so what can you do?
Just ask, but in a non-judgmental way. Something like: “Hey, it’s really quiet in here, not a lot of energy. I’m wondering what’s going on? Can you give me some feedback or insight?”

Then, listen. Don’t judge, don’t label, just listen and acknowledge whatever you heard as legitimate. Try to address the issue or concern, or adjust whatever you’re doing to meet the audience’s needs.
Remember, as a leader of a meeting, a speaker, or as an entertainer, it’s not about you, it’s all about connecting with your audiance. If you’re picking up negative vibes, take responsibility for those vibes, and don’t shoot the audience!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Leadership – it’s not just about you, it’s all about you

Guest post from Emmanuel Gobillot:

There is one thing all great leaders share.  It’s the one thing most leadership books will never tell you about, yet it is also the only thing that can predict whether you will succeed or not.  That one thing is obvious when you stop and think about it – followers!

Leading is about being followed. Period. Great leadership is about having great followers who exercise their freedom of choice to release their discretionary effort in the pursuit of goal.

Step one of becoming a great leader is to realise that in fact leadership is not about you. It’s about your followers.  It’s about understanding why they choose to follow.  Why do they decide to follow one leader over another? What is the logic (if any) of their decisions?

There are two important issues with this.

The first is that for many people in the corporate world, it is leaders who decide who leads, not followers.  It is “superiors” who appoint us to leadership positions.  So shouldn’t we care about what they, rather than potential followers, think – after all those followers have little choice in the decision on who their boss will be.

This may be true but it misses the point.  While it may well be leaders who appoint leaders, it is followers who delver results.  Although followers may not get a choice about who leads them, they do get a choice as to how much effort they allocate to the task.  In a changing world, success is dependant on them releasing their discretionary effort, not just on them fulfilling their contractual duties.

So the issue here is not about whether followers’ opinions matter. They do. The real issue is whether you are looking at leadership through the right lens.

The second issue is much more fundamental.

How do we actually get to know what followers are looking for when they make the decision to follow?  Asking them seems obvious enough but doing so will only lead to disappointment.  You will never get to the right answer purely because most of us can’t quite articulate what we are looking for.  It’s not that we’re stupid - it’s just that our brain doesn’t work like that.

I call the decision-making process of followers, ‘emotional logic’.  It is neither rational nor emotional, conscious nor unconscious.  It is best described as “I follow because it kind of makes sense”.  “It feels right”.  That may be an honest answer, but it’s pretty difficult to do anything with! Dig a little deeper and invariably, inevitably, the word charisma will come up to describe what we are looking for in our leaders. 

Now leadership development professionals (of which I’ll admit to be one) don’t like charisma.  I could be ungenerous and put that dislike down to the fact that perceived as it is as being an innate trait, we shy away from endorsing charisma as an answer simply because we can’t sell development of innate traits.  However, I won’t do that. Instead I would argue that we shy away from endorsing charisma because we can’t truly define it.  But if this is really what followers want, then this is surely what we need to give them.

So perhaps then, the answer is to ape the behaviour of people we identify as charismatic.  With this goal in mind, we devour the pages of business books that promise to make us more like Steve or Richard or Jack, or whoever else we think we ought to be. 

Often the resulting dysfunction, clear for our followers to see, escapes us almost as fast as disappointment at our lack of results invades us.

So here is the second part of the title of this post – whilst leadership is not just about you on the grounds that it is mainly about followers, it is also all about you as followers are much more likely to follow the best version of you than the poor copy of someone else!

So what of this elusive charisma? Can you ever have it? Well here is how I like to think about it.  The etymology of the word charisma is “a gift from the gods” (no wonder we shy away from it!) but actually the reality is that it is a gift from followers offered to leaders.  So le me have a go at spelling out (literally) what it means for leaders from the perspective of a follower.

Show me you are someone I can relate to and who can relate to me through:
  • Compassion – showing you care and are willing to make things better
  • Hope – articulating a way forward
Show me you are someone who will set out to do what they promise through:
  • Asperity – showing grit and determination in what you do
  • Rhetoric – articulating a compelling, concise and coherent way
  • Integrity – showing that what you think, say and do align
  • Simplicity – keeping things simple, not simplistic

Show me you have the capability to actually deliver through:
      Measurement – working with followers to articulate the milestones that will show progress
      Action – not just talking the talk, pulling your sleeves up and doing stuff

About the author:
Emmanuel Gobillot is a senior practitioner in the area of leadership and organization effectiveness. Before setting up his own business to focus on writing, speaking and consulting, Gobillot was a Director at Hay Group where he headed both the consumer sector and the leadership services practice. His most recent book is called Follow the Leader: The one thing great leaders have that great followers want (published by Kogan Page).