Thursday, April 27, 2017

Three Ways a ‘Noble Goal’ Makes You a Significantly Better Leader

Guest post from Brandon Black and Shayne Hughes:

Being a truly great and inspiring leader, who is both effective and respected, is no easy task. Though the job certainly comes with a measure of prestige, every seasoned leader will tell you — it also comes with endless hard work, harsh criticism, and significant stress.

What fuels you to push forward when the pressure is on?

If you’re like the majority of the Western world, you’re probably motivated by greater and greater personal financial success, the yardstick most leaders use to assess their value. Year after year, you work longer hours, pushing yourself to even-higher heights — the next promotion, broader recognition, or another impressive leap in income — only to discover that the “high” of reaching that next level disappears in mere minutes or days.

But our individual success is not what we care most about.

Each of us has a powerful need to positively affect the people and world around us. This need and inspiration is called our “noble goal.” In its simplest form, our noble goal is our personal response to the question: What context, atmosphere, or environment do I want to create for myself and others?

When we remain in the narrow, scarcity mindset of self-focus and self-promotion, we lose our care for others and the broader perspective. When our motivation is exclusively centered on elevating our own “success,” we create an environment of distrust, competition, animosity, and separation.

But, when we connect to a noble goal, it’s clarity inspires us and guides us toward what we really care to bring about in the world, in all domains of our lives – our families, our workplace, our communities, and our society. It is our North Star, and it has the power to guide both our long-term direction as well as our moment-by-moment choices.

At Encore Capital Group, a debt collection company, CEO Brandon Black and his employees decided that “restoring dignity and creating a path toward financial independence” for their customers was a core tenet of their noble goal. To breathe life into that goal, they created a Consumer Bill of Rights that began shaping the essential why in how they interacted with their customers and the very way they thought about their business.  

“People at Encore were passionate about The Consumer Bill of Rights,” says Black. “It gave employees a sense of pride about our company. I never saw that level of enthusiasm for quarterly results or a new strategy.”

And embracing a shared noble goal ultimately delivered positive business returns. As Encore’s team approached their daily work through this new lens, morale increased and collections continued to grow.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1. A noble goal inspires you to blaze new trails
Focusing intently on a larger purpose helps inspire you to explore new ideas or try new approaches. It gives you the courage to take risks you might not otherwise dare to.

When Black and his team created the Consumer Bill of Rights, it felt scary and risky to break the mold in an industry known for less than warm and friendly debt collection practices. But ultimately, employees felt inspired and empowered to act from a space of caring. They began humanizing their customers. Instead of acting like adversaries, Encore employees became customer allies, listening to their stories and helping customers rise out of the financial burden (and personal shame) of excessive debt.

As you begin to prioritize caring and empathy over your own personal discomfort, your mental faculties focus on what really matters and how to do it to the utmost of your ability.

2. You look for ways to unleash other people’s potential, not just your own
Early in his role of CEO, Black admits he competed to be the smartest person in the room, to be the one in the spotlight. He thought that was how you led people – how one gained recognition and success. But after identifying his own noble goal, Black developed a new way to lead.

“I learned to value transparency, empathy, and vulnerability as much as business intellect,” said Black. “Today, I’m able to be present with my colleagues, family, and friends; see different possibilities; and create a collective agenda instead of one dominated by my opinions. I believe Encore’s runaway success was directly tied to this shift in management philosophy and culture. I wish I had learned this lesson way back when I started leading people!”

When leaders center on a noble goal, the positive shift is contagious. The collective energy of the team also shifts from self-preservation to focusing on growth, connecting to one another, and co-creating something larger. Every person who steps up creates positive ripples throughout the organization – and, the more senior you are, the more impactful your behavior.

3. You’re able to face criticism with confidence and courage
When the collections industry later came under fire, Encore felt confident they had nothing to hide about how they operate. It didn’t mean they were perfect, but their noble goal helped rouse a solid sense of courage because failing, being judged, or feeling hurt seemed less threatening. They felt secure enough to say to their detractors, “Come take a look and tell us what you find.”

If there were flaws in their system, they wanted to learn about them because it accelerated their ability to fulfill their mission. Criticism never feels good—because it threatens our ego’s desire to be competent, perfect and successful. But when that feedback can help you and your team achieve your noble goal more effectively, the sting of a critique is lessened.

Good news: It’s never too late to embark on this important work.

So, what’s your noble goal?

Below the surface, every leader brims with this incredible generosity, creativity and motivation. You are wholly capable of putting aside your ego’s ambitions to reach for a higher calling. You no longer have to build your life and career at the expense of others or at the expense of genuine personal fulfillment.

The desire to serve a noble goal is in your DNA, and the energy you will feel when you act on this instinct will elevate your focus, increase your enthusiasm, and amplify the impact of your leadership in profound and powerful ways.

Brandon Black retired as CEO and Director of Encore Capital Group in 2013.  He holds an MBA from the University of Richmond and a bachelor’s of business administration from The College of William and Mary.  He is co-author, with Shayne Hughes, of EGOFREE LEADERSHIP:  Ending The UnconsciousHabits That Hijack Your Business. 

Shayne Hughes is President and Culture Change Partners of Learning as Leadership, a San Francisco-based management consultancy, where he specializes in creating corporate cultures of open communication and collaboration. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Improvisational Leadership: Use Improv to Avoid Leadership Pitfalls

Guest post from Bob Kulhan:

Most of us aspire to be great leaders—passionate, inspiring, thoughtful and productive. But we all know people in the business world who do a terrible job in leadership positions: awful bosses, disengaged department heads, ineffective team managers, and otherwise bad bigwigs in nice offices who make the work environment an unpleasant one.

So if we all have the potential to be great leaders, where do some go wrong? Perhaps some leaders have developed bad habits; some lack an understanding of what it takes to be a good leader; and some feel they’re leading well simply because they’re focused on their intention to lead, not the results of their leadership. I specialize in bringing improvisational skills to the workplace, and one of the key elements of improvisational thinking is the ‘self-audit’—the ability to be aware in real time of how you’re doing your job and how your actions and leadership style are impacting those around you.   

A regular self-audit can keep you from slipping into one or more of the following leadership categories. If you find that some of your language, actions or habits are on this list, don’t worry—some simple improvisational techniques can help you fix them.

YES, BUT(’ers)
Yes, but(’ers) miss a key truth: how you frame language can make an enormous difference in sharing ideas, brainstorming, relationship building, and creating culture and influence. If people know one thing about improvisational thinking, it’s the concept of “Yes, and…” in which you invite open communication by responding directly to and striving to build upon the other person’s ideas. In contrast, “Yes, but…’ devalues, undermines, redirects, and (to the person hearing it) even negates everything that came before it.

IMPROV CORRECTIVE: Be mindful of your team and your role by specifically using “Yes, and…”. Make it clear that you respect what team members have to say and value their input. A great leader creates an atmosphere in which all members can flourish, and using the “Yes, and…” improv technique can help you create a culture of acceptance.

Some leaders assume that every party needs a pooper, and that a leader should point out flaws in others’ work—or say ‘No’ to others’ ideas. Their guiding principle seems to be negativism, and if something does turn out right, they feel compelled to point out that it could have been done better. Few things demotivate and demoralize a team faster.

IMPROV CORRECTIVE: Understand the difference between Divergent thinking (generating as many ideas as you can) and Convergent thinking (winnowing them down to one or two killer ideas). During divergent thinking, take off the “critical thinking” hat so you and your team can fully explore the possibility and potential of ideas before shooting them down. Then reapply the critical thinking skills in a separate convergent thinking phase, as you drive toward a productive outcome.

For these leaders, there has never been a good idea that couldn’t be dismissed in favor of their ‘better’ idea. These people judge the decisions of others without collaborating or contributing to the team in any meaningful way. They are much more interested in highlighting their own achievements, accolades, status and rank.        

IMPROV CORRECTIVE: Set the ego aside. Make sure that your subordinates and colleagues perceive your own goal as a leader to be the achievement of positive team results, not personal gain. If you’ve created a strong, improvisational team and a ‘Yes and’ environment, everyone will help each other succeed; team success is personal success. A good leader will make a good team look great, and a great team will make a good leader look amazing.

This approach to leadership is thoughtless, passionless, and lacking in energy. These leaders say they prize creativity, innovation and change but demand that the same old things be done in the same old way they’ve always be done. They talk a lot about ‘motivation’ without ever doing anything to motivate.           

IMPROV CORRECTIVE: Constantly take action. Make initiations and declarations. A leader needs to keep the energy of a team focused and driven. Change is a constant. You can lead change, follow change, or get dragged along behind it. Which do you prefer?

This leader may be well-liked and has gotten successful results in the past but has fallen into the trap of demanding 100% perfection 100% of the time. This leadership dynamic is based in micromanagement, rooted in a fear of failure.          

IMPROV CORRECTIVE: Go ahead, be vulnerable and open to strategic failure. Improv is by nature about failure and evolution. An improvisational leader should experiment and innovate when possible and constantly seek out potential ways to improve performance. Create periods of time in which it’s okay to take chances and fail.  Avoid analysis paralysis; remember that only approximately 10% of decisions have to be 100% correct—the remaining 90% of decisions just need to be made, and there’s plenty of room to improvise, adapt and succeed. Avoid micromanaging by using improv techniques to create a team culture based in open communication and trust.

A Leader in Name Only, these people provide no guidance or support and barely show any leadership presence. Though not present for the day-to-day grind, they take all the credit for success and no responsibility (or accountability) for struggles, challenges or failures.  

IMPROV CORRECTIVE:  Lead by example, not with empty declarations. That means being available when guidance is needed and aware that struggles could be great opportunities for mentorship and team growth. Moreover, own the failures. This is a simple matter of integrity and accountability. The buck does indeed stop with you. A great leader credits the team when there is a success, and shoulders the responsibility when there is a failure. Any team’s chances of achieving desired results increase when a leader allows team members to be invested in success, appreciated when they achieve it, and free of a fear of failure when they don’t.

Great leaders (or bad ones) don’t emerge through just a few decisions or actions. Leadership traits—good and bad—develop over time, and the most enlightened leaders make personal leadership development part of their overall strategy for success. The more honest you are about how you are truly perceived as a leader, the better equipped you’ll be to avoid leadership pitfalls and influence your team in a positive way.   

About the Author:

Bob Kulhan is the author of GETTING TO “YES, AND”: The Art of Business Improv (Stanford University Press; January 24, 2017). He is President, CEO, and Founder of Business Improv, an innovative consultancy that specializes in experiential learning and serves an international roster of blue-chip firms. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School. A performer with over 20 years of stage credits, he has trained with a long list of legendary talents, including Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. An actor and former core faculty member in Chicago’s famed Second City and a member of the resident company at the iO Theater, Kulhan is a co-founder of the critically acclaimed Baby Wants Candy improv troupe. His work has been featured by such outlets as Big Think, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, the Financial Times, NPR, Slate, and the Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Why Great Leadership Requires the Courage to Accept Pain

Guest post from Angela Sebaly:

As a leadership coach, I’ve spent decades observing hundreds of people who have strikingly different backgrounds and equally diverse approaches to leadership. Despite the differences, there has been one quality that has separated the good managers from the exceptional leaders: the willingness to step up to the plate and face any challenge rather than avoid it. That means making difficult decisions or implementing unpopular changes. It also means taking a stand or holding an emotionally charged conversation. Even giving and receiving feedback can be challenging - yet it’s a challenge that absolutely must be faced.

Thus, being a great leader means turning towards the problem and tackling it head-on rather than running from tension. Not just every now and then, but regularly.  This may sound like par for the course, but in fact, it’s more complicated than it sounds and is often shirked because with challenges, comes pain.

Most of us have already experienced this somehow. After all, isn’t it easier to find a workaround in a tricky situation than to risk a confrontation - even if that confrontation might open the door to a lasting solution? This is just one example among many.

Instead of trying to erase or evade the potential for pain in the midst of challenges, I advise leaders to lean into the experience. This begins with acknowledging that pain will inevitably arise  - whether you’re holding a touchy conversation with an employee who has been an hour late for a week straight, or making the decision to cut back on departmental funding or personnel.

Pain can be a tricky thing. We humans experience pain differently. Our threshold for pain is entirely subjective. Pain is a stimulus, and how we perceive that stimulus differs based on our individual propensity to sense it and tolerate it. One person might faint at breaking a bone while another doesn’t realize it’s broken for days, if not weeks. To be an effective leader, you have to understand your relationship with pain and learn to endure it.  It is, quite simply, part of the process of effective leadership.  Leaders must be mentally prepared for this fact that pain and have a toolkit at their fingertips for rising to meet challenges instead of shirking them in favor of stability and comfort.

This, in turn, requires courage. John Wayne once said that courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway. This definition is one I’ve held onto in my work, because I believe courage partly comes from a leader’s ability to face fear and potential pain.

The good news is, no matter how pain-averse you are, you can develop the courage and strength to rise to challenges and work through pain. Everyone can. Leaders falsely believe they are required to be the Navy Seals of the workplace -- unemotional, unwavering, strong -- to be considered courageous, but in reality, we all have the power to tap into courage.

That’s because courage is not something we are born with.  It is not a definitive characteristic like the color of your eyes or your height. Rather, courage is a mindset that requires only grit and determination. To be courageous means to keep working at something even if it is tough or uncomfortable. It takes practice and dedication, but once it’s developed it is a priceless skill that can be applied to all varieties of leadership, whether in the workplace, in the community or at home.

Angela Sebaly, author of The Courageous Leader (Wiley, spring 2017), is co-founder and CEO of the firm Personify Leadership, a training provider. Formerly the Vice President of Leadership Development for a global oil, gas and chemicals inspection company, Angela also serves as principle consultant for the firm Invested Leadership. An entrepreneur developing a global presence,  Angela has been coaching, facilitating and leading teams and organizations for over two decades. Education, communication and courage are the pillars of her life’s work.  She lives with her family in Fort Lauderdale. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Great Leaders Know What They Do Best – and Let Go of the Rest

Guest post from Kathy Kolbe:
“I’m a strategist,” Hank tells his management team. “Like most good generals, I give you the specifics of what you need to do, and why.”

Hank’s wise about what works best for him to do – or not to do. But his stereotyping of generals is not accurate. We’ve worked with four-star generals who describe their leadership method this way:

“I give my people the bottom line of what’s gotta happen. They’re on the ground, in the midst of the action, and are best at coming up with their own strategies for how to accomplish those goals.”

Most problems can be solved in different ways with a variety of modes of action. Wise leaders know their best methods for initiating solutions, and who to trust to take it from there. They know they can’t do it all – and that they need to find the right people to fill in the gaps. Those gaps aren’t deficits. They are the cards they were dealt. They are the ones they have to require from others.

No one can do it all. There are 12 natural or instinct-based ways of making decisions, which the ancient philosophers and current research ties to the conative part of the mind/brain. Innate conative capabilities determine our best methods of problem solving, not what types of companies we run.  Human beings are born with four of those capabilities in their wheelhouse, their MO (conative modus operandi).

Great leaders know when, where and why to put their four conative capabilities to use. Wannabe leaders believe that anything someone else can do well, they can do better. Their lack of delegating the tasks that don’t fit their MO inevitably weakens respect for their leadership, leads to a loss of collaborative strengths, and causes mental burn-out from pushing themselves beyond their limits.

Former Alaska Airlines CEO John Kelly was a master at knowing when to take charge through one of his conative capabilities – innovating solutions. He also knew when and how to count on the traditionalists on his management team. He knew their conative, or instinct-based MOs, as well as the conative culture throughout his organization. That allowed him to handle their first-ever loss-of-life in a plane crash with outstanding communications and his personal involvement in the most urgent needs. He knew he should be the spokesperson, and he knew exactly who he could count on to cover the other aspects of the complex situation.

Disaster of another sort was predictable at Arthur Andersen, the one-time leading global accounting enterprise. Leaders there ignored warnings that the organization would implode if they didn’t stop churning out conative lookalikes as partners. Their insistence that everyone who filled top leadership roles mimic the MO of current partners led to a bunch of shoot-from-the-hip deal-makers running the place.  Too many so-called leaders believed that bringing in new business was more important than doing an excellent job with their traditional bean-counting role. No one in authority there was paying close enough attention to regulatory matters. That’s not a minor “oops” when the clients you’re advising are lending organizations. Especially since these clients also had leaders who tended to ignore those pesky little details – and were paying them to keep their companies out of trouble.

Growth oriented people need to surround themselves with nay-sayers who save them from themselves. Without the gumption to listen to what you don’t want to hear, the whole house of cards will fall down. None of the information we showed the data-resistant leaders in Arthur Andersen seemed to enter into their decision making. Just a few of the right people in the right place in the organization would have changed the history of its catastrophic failure.

Co-authors Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters are so right when they wrote in their book, Rocket Fuel, that pairing the right conative abilities “is the key to getting everything you want out of your business.” Their recent experiences in business show that the pattern we have seen over decades remains consistently true. As they say, “You will get more of what you want from your business when you share natural talents and innate skill sets, [because they give] the power to reach new heights for virtually any company or organization.”

Great leaders have the humility to know they are great because they recognize what they are not great at doing – and make the effort to figure out who would be.

Kathy Kolbe and Amy Bruske are the authors of the new book, Business Is Business.
Kathy is the global leader in discovering and accessing the power of human instincts. She's done the brain research to prove the relevance of her Kolbe Theory of Conation to individual and organizational success. Kathy was the first person to connect conative behavior to instinctive drives, which she postulated as the source of the patterns of mental energy commonly known as a person's MO.
Amy is the president of Kolbe Corp and leads seminars for business leaders throughout the world. She was recently named Business Owner of the Year by the Phoenix chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).