Thursday, December 26, 2019

Three Ways to Improve Retention on Your Team

Guest post from Hilary Grosskopf:

Managing a team can sometimes feels more like managing a revolving door. When retention is poor, leaders spend valuable time interviewing and training rather than making progress. For organizations, attrition is an expensive issue that takes money away from impactful progress, innovation, employee benefits, and enjoyable team activities. Intelligent hiring decisions and satisfying paychecks are not enough to retain your best team members.

As a leader, it’s essential to be proactive about your approach to engagement in order to build your team and retain your best team members. Once your team is in place, team members must feel a sense of clarity, healthy challenge, and connection every day. When team members lose interest and motivation, they soon start to look for a new opportunity that fills this void.

Three practices that will help you retain your best team members and make more impactful progress:

1. Give Clear Direction

Leaders often give direction about responsibilities to individual team members when they join the team. Over time, meetings to review objectives, responsibilities, and progress move down on the priority list for busy leaders. However, it’s essential to give frequent, clear direction in team meetings as well as in one-on-one meetings with team members. Without clarity about objectives and priorities from the central perspective of the leader, team members work in different directions and people do redundant work. Misalignment around priorities and delegation breeds animosity amongst the team. When team members are not clear about their responsibilities and objectives, they become frustrated and lose motivation. Team members need clarity and connection to the purpose of their individual and the collective efforts. Spend time in team meetings reviewing team objectives and facilitating two-way dialogue about priorities and progress. Use a white board to write down objectives, talk through timelines, and delegate tasks together. Spend time in weekly one-on-one meetings reviewing individual objectives, responsibilities, and progress. 

2. Give Positive Acknowledgement

So many leaders overlook the simple yet powerful practice of acknowledgement. When days feel busy and getting the work done becomes a challenge in itself, leaders forget that acknowledgement is what keeps team members motivated and connected. Positive acknowledgement is a form of energy for team members. To fuel productivity and provide motivation, give acknowledgement for small and large accomplishments. A “thank you” in person or via e-mail goes a long way in making a team member feel valued and appreciated for his or her work. During team meetings or one-on-one meetings with team members, spend time acknowledging wins and milestones. Lead by example in giving positive acknowledgement and team members will start to give positive acknowledgement to each other as well. 

3. Give Opportunities for Development

Leaders often assume that opportunities for development and career growth only come with a promotion. However, the best team members are always looking for opportunities to learn, develop skills, and gain new experience. It’s up to the leader to support team members in continuously growing, even between promotions. The most engaging form of learning and development happens through special projects. A special project is a project that adds new value to the team while also allowing the team member to develop new skills. Is there a project you have been putting on the back burner for a while? Is there a task or project you could hand off to a team member? Spend time mentoring by transferring skills, giving knowledge, and providing feedback during and after the project. Ideally, a special project will help a team member prepare for the next level in his or her career by building new skills and knowledge in alignment with his or her interests. Other opportunities for development include team shadowing sessions where team members can share skills and ideas, educational field trips where team members can immerse in company context, and courses where team members can build relevant skills and knowledge.

Though retention is challenging in a fast-paced and competitive business environment, leaders have the power to retain team members with authentic offerings that money can’t buy. The best leaders provide clear direction, positive acknowledgement, and opportunities for development. These practices give team members peace of mind, healthy challenge, and genuine connection.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Magic Potion in Leadership

Guest post by Raghu Kalé:

IS leadership overrated? I have often grappled with this question. The fact that one holds a position barely qualifies one to be a leader. Some folks manage to deceive themselves into believing that they are leaders. Why? Because they hold a position?

In my life, I have worked with leaders who served for a cause. Some served as heads of businesses that operated across geographies in multiple countries and many continents.

Some leaders I thought I knew withered away after we moved on – out of sight, out of mind. We barely kept in touch. Then there were those who I truly respected, who turned out to be friends for life. I heard someone say, “… you may join a company – but when you move on – you leave a boss …”

Many consultants preach about how to become a great leader. Once we tear down the facade and peel away the layers, it comes down to what is left in the bare and naked form of humanity: the human personality. After all, you can’t teach people to be nice. Leadership traits are the same; either you have them, or you don’t. You can’t fake it for long. In some instances, I have seen how the dynamics of power-play work. Actions speak louder than words. Most often, people see games people play. I have witnessed how power-hungry managers wield power by inspiring a few for some time before the disillusion sets in.

In my experience, I witnessed my former boss and his uncanny skill at radiating a sense of anxiety—an illusion that transmitted unpredictability. On his retirement, my farewell words to him in my in-person chat said it all: “While our corporate signature line is Leadership with Trust— you symbolized Leadership with Thrust. Your pyrotechnics hidden in your false temper – simulation of stress you orchestrated was perhaps only to extract results from people you lead.” My words brought a smile to him. Despite his uncanny unpredictable ways, his ability to pay heed to genuine hearts was uncanny. His responsibility spanned vast geography that included regions under unrest. As the CEO, he was faced with a dilemma. One of his managers was kidnapped while on his way to the office, and the militants demanded a ransom. The demands were refused, and negotiations went on for over a year. Running the business and achieving profitability despite all odds was a business as usual challenge. The unusual part was in managing this crisis that attracted national headlines. It tested leadership mettle. His modulation of genuine concern on one extreme and pyrotechnic to manage anxiety and unpredictability on the other – for some, it continues to baffle. Perhaps it qualifies for an in-depth research study.

I know that fear, on the one hand, is a mediocre drug that treats a symptom that is best suited for lesser mortals. Inspiration, on the other hand, is the magic potion that develops leaders, thereby boundlessly uplifting the spirits that heal the soul – thus transcending its impact across generations with a lasting legacy.

I was fortunate to have worked with several leaders who lead with compassion and grace. A promise is a promise was their unspoken shackle bonded with truth and trust. I once asked my senior about leading with trust, since he served on several boards. He was conferred the Honorary Knighthood by Elizabeth II, along with several civilian awards that he was bestowed over time. His accolades are countless. His demeanor is humble. It was in the early years of my career when we had developed the corporate branding signature line: 'Leadership with Trust.' It was about reaffirming leadership in sectors in which the conglomerate operated. My simple question to him was: "You as a leader – what can you do to ensure we live by the corporate signature line of ‘Leadership with Trust?’" His response was simple. He said that he personally could not do much about trust directly, but what he strives to do is keep his word. Over time, he hopes that it will build personal credibility. He explained, “Trust, as I see, is an outcome,” over which he had no direct control. He explained that he has a much better influence over credibility. And so, I see it now that one must do what one has to do. Never give a diplomatic, soft-pedaling answer. Folks can see through it. After all, you can only be a leader if you have followers. You will have followers only if you can inspire, and you can inspire if you don’t try to fake it with a pep talk and rehearsed talk lines. You can’t preach people to be ethical and have moral standards and then show off a falsehood of high morality and ethics.

To be a great leader, you have to work hard to alter your personality to be worthy of being called a leader. Only on your tombstone and at your funeral will you know from the conversations others have about you, besides the eulogy, if you were liked for what you were or was only a fatal attraction about your position and the goodies you had as the paraphernalia of the leadership position you held.

About the Author:
Raghu Kalé is an accomplished communications professional who has positively impacted
business outcomes by supporting corporate and operational strategy. Formerly the Vice President in the Office of the Brand Custodian of Tata Sons, Mr. Kalé has supported brand and marketing thought leadership initiatives for over 25 years. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Ywin Shin, their two daughters, and a wise-eyed beagle named Skye. Loyalty & Sacrifice: Ushering New Horizons for Business Leaders in the Digital Age is his first book.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Great Leadership Development Disrupter: Leadership Rotation

Guest post from Dee Ann Turner:

During my tenured career at one organization, I had the “best of the best” leadership development opportunities. I attended multiple executive education courses at the top business schools in the United States. In that organization, no expense was spared for leadership development. Their program includes on-one coaching from some of the best leadership minds and constant exposure to top leadership conferences and speakers. The organization ensures participation in multiple mentoring programs, assignment to non-profit boards and engaging in a multitude of on-the-job experiences with most senior leaders in the company. While all of these leadership development tactics has the potential to contribute to leadership growth, none of them compared to the one that transformed me as a leader.

For 30 years, I worked in the same function within the organization – Human Resources, later renamed Talent. On my 30th anniversary with the company, I left the familiar and launched a new function and team, Enterprise Social Responsibility, something I knew very little about at the time. With the new assignment came a blank sheet of paper to develop a strategy, a new team to lead whom I did not select, a new leader in an unfamiliar area of the company and a charge to “figure it out.” It was single most effective leadership development activity of my entire career. Since then, I have become and advocate for organizations to formally adopt leadership rotation programs as part of the leadership development plans.

Often, businesses and even non-profits, anticipate the pain of change to be greater than the value of the learning, so they avoid leadership rotation, especially if things are going well. However, an organization cannot afford for their leaders to become complacent and their learning to atrophy. While the stability that tenured leadership at the highest levels creates some comfort for collaboration, it can adversely impact innovation. Furthermore, leaders who stay in a position too long can shift into an “automatic” mode in both strategic thinking and in their people management.

Consider these benefits of a leadership rotation program:

1. The leader learns the valuable skill of building trust with a team. True leadership does not require a leader to have expertise in a specific subject matter. Instead, it requires them to lead people who do. Leaders who lack subject matter competency have to rely on the subject matter experts on their team to provide information and help make the best decisions. Trust breeds trust. When the leader trusts the team members, the team members often reciprocate. Trust is foundational to the success of any leader.

2. The leader learns critical persuasion and negotiation skills. It is far easier to advocate and negotiate about a very familiar function. It’s much more challenging to so in unfamiliar territory. Yet, it is in the discomfort of the unfamiliar that promotes growth for the leader.  Significant challenge to thinking and planning skills helps the leader’s competencies evolve.

3. The leader is more likely to develop an innovation mindset. If a leader stays in one function too long, it is more difficult to think about doing things differently. A leadership rotation can reignite some of the ideation that is natural to the leader. New ideation can move the organization forward to meet future challenges.

4. The leader strengthens people management skills. In most cases, an established leader is selecting the talent for the team. That same talent is choosing to work for the leader. However, when a leader is reassigned to a team, it requires new skills in leading people. The leader did not select the team members and they did not select the leader. This situation requires the leader to focus on communication skills, role definition, goal setting, holding others accountable and performance management. All leaders on any team should be applying these skills, but doing so in a new environment with new team members accelerates leadership development.

5. The leader develops collaboration skills. When assigned to a new role, especially if the functional competencies are unfamiliar, the leader will not only grow trust with the team members, but will also grow collaboration skills with peers. The new subject matter will require the leader to seek input, counsel and feedback from other leaders in the organization. It’s not business as usual. Interdependency develops within the leadership team when the leaders are challenged by a new role.

Within tenured organizations, leadership development can be especially challenging. There are too few new activities or programs that disrupt the leader’s thinking and perspective. Consider the significant role leadership rotation can play in developing the leaders in your organization.

Dee Ann Turner is leading the modern conversation about talent in business. The in-demand speaker, author, executive coach, and consultant was the first female officer at Chick-fil-A, for whom she served as Vice President of Talent and later, Vice President of Sustainability. There, Dee Ann helped shape Chick-fil-A’s historically remarkable culture for more than 30 years. In her bestselling first book, It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture, Dee Ann took readers behind the scenes of Chick-fil-A for explanations and action steps any business could adopt. Released on September 3, 2019, her follow-up BET ON TALENT: HOW TO CREATE A REMARKABLE CULTURE THAT WINS THE HEARTS OF CUSTOMERS dissects the strategies of numerous industry-leading organizations alongside explanations of Dee Ann’s original approaches to the most crucial decisions in business. Today, she leads her own organization, Dee Ann Turner, LLC, writing books, speaking to over 50 audiences per year and consulting and coaching leaders globally. Dee Ann lives with her husband just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

#GreatLeadersCoach – 5 Coaching Skills Every Leader Should Have

Guest post from Phil Renshaw and Jenny Robinson:

For many years now there has been increasing recognition of the value professional coaches bring to managers and leaders in business. Given the power of coaching, it can benefit everyone. Both the supply and the demand for such coaches continues to increase. However, it is our belief that we are all missing a vital fact.

It is simply untenable to think that we can give a professional coach to everyone who would benefit from it - organisations cannot afford to give everyone a professional coach. And yet they can, and in our view should, give everyone a leader-coach.

Theories and leadership advocates have been arguing for decades (if not millennia) that the most effective leaders are great coaches because they use these skills to harness the potential of the whole team, not just the super stars.  These leaders recognise that they cannot lead alone.  

The first five fundamental skills of coaching can be learnt by anyone.  As you read the list take note if you are mentally yawning because you think “they’re not rocket science” or “these are obvious”.  It’s important to spot if you do this. Many do, and it means they fail to develop the nuances of these fundamentals. All skills require practice – we are not born with these skills!

1. Generative Listening
We need to hear the concerns of our colleagues, understand their issues and give them time to think if we are to be most useful. This is not simply listening. Rather it is giving your full attention, listening out for what is not said, the tone and language used, such that it prompts great questions and hence great thinking in your people. It is generative because it helps the speaker to generate their own solutions. This empowerment is the core to great coaches. Having the belief that your people will be able to find their own way forward is what generative listening demonstrates.

2. Questioning
Banish boring questions.  This is how you will bring alive your curiosity and help someone to see a new perspective.  It also makes it FUN!  We advocate left-field questions like: if you had a magic wand, what would you wish for? What would your kids say? How will you see this issue in twenty-five years-time?  Imaginative questions help to break old assumptions and are a powerful gateway to change.

3. Giving Feedback
Leaders who coach do not turn into “softies”. Coaching skills allow for more direct and straightforward conversations about performance and behaviour.  Key to this is establishing a relationship of trust, so that both people feel they are respected.  In this context, giving feedback becomes a gift because it now comes from a place of helpfulness.  When you are a leader who coaches, you hold the belief that people absolutely want to know if they are failing or acting in a way that is not helpful to others.  Notice now what happens for you, when you make this assumption. And now think about giving someone feedback. 

4. Changing Perspective
Have you ever had the experience of listening to a friend as they tell you a problem and from your point of view it is obvious what they should do?  Welcome to a new perspective.  Of course, your “obvious” might not be theirs, nor may it be right for them.  But the point is, there is always a fresh way to see things.  Leaders who coach help people to find that new perspective.  Ellen Langer, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard, says that new perspectives help us to break categorical thinking.  Categorical thinking is all about “right” “wrong” “should” “must” “ought”.  This is not helpful and not true. There is always more than one way.  Your job is to help your coachee find new ways.

5. Using Pause-Points™
We use the term Pause-Points to represent several related and yet crucial skills. For yourself, as a leader, Pause-Points are the brief moments that you take to notice what is happening around you. When you metaphorically step back, and reflect – what important things have happened today? What did I miss in the whirlwind of meetings and conversations today? For others around you, Pause-Points represent when you pause in conversation, when you use silence to encourage them to think more deeply and to draw out what is happening at a deeper level. Do it now – what has surprised you so far in this article?

Being an effective leader-coach requires awareness and practice – it’s a skill so this should be no surprise. The components of coaching often appear easy – and like the great sportsperson whose ability seems effortless, they are easy (or at least straight-forward) … provided you practice. If you’ve never been trained at these things, or never given them attention, why should you be any good at it? Being senior does not mean you can do these things, after all, as someone significant said: What got you here won’t get you there! (thanks Marshall Goldsmith).

And as Marshall also said, ‘Successful leaders achieve lasting change through effective coaching.’

PhilRenshaw and Jenny Robinson are leadership development experts and co-authors of new book, Coaching on the Go.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Best Run Companies are the Sustainable Companies

Guest post from Sam Hua and Nan Hua:

Business people talk all the time about wanting to build ‘hundred-year companies’. But a   hundred years of what? A hundred years of growth? A hundred years of development? Or a hundred years of survival?

The key should be survival, so the company will be alive and kicking in a hundred years, passed on across generations. This is the ultimate achievement in business. As for a hundred years of growth – well, no company has yet managed to do that.

Most public companies see their strategy as being entirely dictated by growth. Balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements are
cranked out every year. And so, we’ve gotten to the point where public companies can’t even look beyond the current year in their ‘strategic vision’.

Now let’s talk about development.

What is development? Growth means more money; development means more capabilities. Development is the process of gaining the capability to survive in the future.

When a company’s revenues reach a peak, it could very well be the eve of its destruction. Why? Because this year’s success is the result of inertia from the past. If you don’t develop the ability to continue to survive next year, you might be gone by then. If you have piles of cash on hand but your company faces the risk of failure, that shows you don’t have a scientific outlook on development – all you’re focusing on is growth. This was Nokia’s problem.

Many business people, the most successful ones, often say that their companies are 6-18 months away from failure. These people are said to be ‘always focusing on the next crisis’. Sometimes they’re accused of faking it to keep their employees in line. But it’s really none of these things. They are not guarding against sudden crises, they just have a clear understanding of how companies survive and develop – everything a company has today is the result of good decisions yesterday. But if good decisions aren’t being made today, then the company won’t survive tomorrow. It’s a cause and effect dynamic.

What’s an even higher achievement than development? Survival. When we talk about building a 100-year company, we don’t mean the company is going to grow for 100 years, we mean the company will still be around in 100 years. The ultimate achievement in business is sustainable operation – the company always survives and never disappears. How do you do this? By always having new cards in hand. If you never want to be left behind by society, you need to be always useful to it so that it keeps you around. You have to always think about your killer products, authoritative expertise and dreams come true for the next year, next five years, next decade. This is the foundation of our strategy.

Sam Hua and Nan Hua are  founding partners of Shanghai H&H Marketing Consulting
Company and the authors of SUPER SIGNS: Taking Your Brand To The Ultimate Level.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Strategy Story That Works

Guest post from Paul Smith:

Every great leader tells stories. But which stories are the most important ones to tell?

That’s a question I’ve thought a lot about. And after interviewing over 300 CEOs, leaders, and executives in 25 countries around the world about their use of storytelling in business, I finally have an answer. I discuss all of my conclusions in the new book The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell. But in this article, let me lay out the first four and give you an example of one of them.

Four of the stories I think every leader needs to be able to tell are about setting the direction for the organization. Here they are:

1.    Where we came from (our founding story)
2.    Why we can’t stay here (a case-for-change story)
3.    Where we’re going (a vision story)
4.    How we’re going to get there (a strategy story)

Every leader, regardless of what functional discipline they represent, needs to be able to tell those four stories. If you can, you have a much better chance of being able to get the organization to go where you want them to go.

But telling these stories doesn’t just mean having a clearly articulated set of talking points on those four topics. Of course, you should have a clear set of talking point on those four topics. But telling a compelling story about those four ideas is not the same as just having good talking points.

A story is something special. A story is a narrative about something that happened to someone. Human beings are far more interested in – and compelled to act because of – stories than they are from slides or bullet points or talking points or memos.

Here’s an example of #4 – a strategy story.

The cough/cold industry is obviously a seasonal business. The overwhelming majority of cold medicines, cough syrups, decongestants, and facial tissues are sold in either the winter cold season or spring allergy season. And like many other businesses, there’s usually one dominant brand in each of those categories, and then distant second and third place brands.

One year, all the employees at one of those second-place brands arrived at work to find something unexpected on their desks—a copy of what looked like an article from The Wall Street Journal. Except it wasn’t really a Journal article. It was just a memo designed to look like one. Oddly, the date at the top was six years into the future. And the byline identified the author as one of the executives who worked in their business unit. So, while nobody was fooled, it was all strange enough to convince everyone to read it. The title was “How David Beat Goliath.”

Here’s a synopsis of what it said:

What’s the best strategy to win a basketball game if you know your opponent is better than you?

Answer: don’t let them play the game the way their way. Change the game. One strategy that’s worked for a lot of out-classed teams is this – play a full-court press the entire game. Your opponents have probably had very little practice against a full-court press. And when they do finally get the ball on their side of the court to make a play, they’ll be too exhausted to execute it.

And that’s exactly what this second-tier brand in the cough/cold category did that year. Instead of only running advertisements during cold and allergy season, they started advertising twelve months a year. The ground they gained in off-peak time gave them a head start the next peak season.

Their next unconventional move was to stop marketing their brand as only good for colds and allergies. For example, you can use facial tissues to remove makeup or wipe away tears, not just blow your nose. And while most brands market their products exclusively to women (who still make about 80 percent of the purchase decisions), they started advertising to men also. Those new uses and new buyers grew their market share even more.

But they didn’t stop with just marketing changes. They started innovating with their product as well: Self-dosing lids, designer boxes, and packaging so soft you could curl up with it in bed when you’re sick. Each new idea brought new sales.

The article went on to describe equally radical changes the brand had made to retail shelf strategies, promotional strategies, and new places to use the product nobody had ever thought of before. The final line of the article said that after five years of executing these strategies, this distant little second-place brand had just overtaken the dominant brand in market share for the first time in its fifty-year history. “David 37%. Goliath 36%.”

At the bottom of the article was a handwritten note that said, “Thanks for everything you did to achieve these amazing results! —the boss.”

Notice this was a story, but it clearly explained each piece of the brand’s strategy and why each one would work, using layman’s terms, a brilliant analogy, and an inspiring story. By the afternoon, people all over the office had pinned that article to their cubicle walls. And for weeks, the author was stopped in the hallway by people he’d never met before thanking him for writing such an inspiring article, and for explaining the strategy in a way they could understand, appreciate, and most importantly, execute.

A well-crafted strategy story like that can do the same for you.

Paul Smith is one of the world's leading experts on business storytelling. He's a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell, Lead with a Story, Sell with a Story, and Parenting with a Story. You can find Paul at

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Leaders: Where Are Your Best Ideas Born? The Power Of Incubation

Guest post by Roger L. Firestien, PhD:

I’d bet you a hundred dollars that you don’t get your best ideas at work. Most people in my seminars and classes tell me that they get their best ideas while driving a car, exercising, taking a bath or shower, or as they fall asleep at night.

At work, most of us are in implementation mode. Action mode. Make-it-happen mode. When we get away from work and are able to pay attention to something in a relaxed way, new ideas begin to surface. Activities like driving, bathing or falling asleep are so automatic that we relax the judgmental part of our thinking, thus allowing new ideas to surface.

A classic tenet of creative problem solving is that often breakthrough ideas come to us when we step away from the problem and incubate. You’ve likely experienced it yourself. You’ve been working on a problem for a long time, haven’t made progress, and you back off to do something else. After your period of incubation — eureka! The idea hits you.

Several times in my life I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with a breakthrough idea for a project I am working on. As a matter of fact, my first book came to me at 3 a.m. in Washington D.C. in 1986. I was finishing up my doctoral dissertation and took the weekend off to visit some friends. I still remember the meal we had that evening, Thai food with white wine. In the middle of the night, I woke up with the characters and the plot line for the book. I grabbed my pocket tape recorder and dictated almost the entire book. The next morning, I needed a new tape because I had filled one with my early morning epiphany. Now, here is the kicker. I went to D.C. to get away from my work. I almost did not take the recorder with me because I thought I was mentally exhausted. However, if I had left the recorder behind, I am sure that book would not exist today.

Recently, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of entrepreneurs for one of my clients. Each member of the panel agreed that their best ideas don’t come at work. All of them had their best ideas “off the grid.” One entrepreneur goes to his cottage on the lake, another goes to his property in the desert, another works on a friend’s cattle ranch outside of the city. (Confession: I'm the guy at the ranch.) Several of them keep their phones near their beds so they can dictate a voice memo if they wake with an idea during the night.

My friend Michelle Miller-Levitt was on the panel. She owned Buffalo, NY’s first podcast studio, Too Much Neon. Michelle told me where she goes to find great ideas, and it's one of the most unusual "places" I've ever heard. When Michelle is stuck on a problem, she hangs upside down on a medicine ball. She says that by doing this, she sees the world a little differently. After a few minutes, she has cleared her mind and a new idea usually surfaces.

The key? Being ready to catch those ideas when they appear. Keep a notepad or your smart phone with you to record new insights when you’re in the mode.

Dr. Roger Firestien has taught more people to lead the creative process than anyone else
in the world. He is senior faculty and an associate professor at the Center for Creativity and Change Leadership at SUNY Buffalo, author of Create in A Flash:  A Leader’s Recipe For Breakthrough Innovation and President of Innovation Resources, Inc. For more information please visit:

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Leaders Build Trust Through Conflict!

Guest post from Scott Warrick:

Trust. Leaders tell you how critical it is to building a team. But what exactly is “trust” and exactly how do you get it?

First, if any leader is going to implement a successful program, they have to define their terms. That is why there is no such thing as “soft skills.” If you cannot define what you are shooting for, how could you ever hit it? You can’t. 

So, how should you define “trust”? Is it safe?

And how do you prove to someone that it is safe to disagree with you? Verbal Jeet, or EPR Skills. (Empathic Listening, Parroting, and “Rewards”).     

We have all been there. We are sitting at our desks, doing our work, and we hear from our boss, Mr. Dithers, “Ah, Scott. I need to see you for a minute.”

Instantly, our gut tightens up and we imagine the worst kind of reasons why our boss wants to see us. “What did I do? Am I getting fired?” 

Rarely does it enter our minds that maybe this is good news. Maybe I was just named “Employee of the Month.” (Yeah, right.)

So, why do we think of the most negative scenarios in such situations? Because we are all hard-wired to have “ANTS,” or “Automatic Negative Thoughts.” This is how we have survived on this planet for so many years. 

Years ago, if Fred Flintstone, a human, saw a new animal that he did not recognize, was it a good idea to call it over to him and pet it? No! It was much safer for Fred to assume the animal was a killer. In short, Fred’s brain was keeping him safe by giving him a little bit of “anxiety” or “apprehension.”

Anxiety and apprehension are both essential to our survival.  This is why we tend to look both ways before crossing the street or pulling out into traffic, even if it is a one-way street.   

So, why do we have this negative reaction when our boss calls us into his office? Because we don’t know that it is “safe” to go into his office.  If there is not any trust in a relationship, our thoughts automatically go to the negative. 

So, how do you typically build “trust”?

Although it sounds contradictory, “trust” is actually built through “conflict,” that is, when conflict occurs in an honest respectful manner. This means you need to resolve conflict by using your Verbal Jeet Skills (EPR = Empathic Listening, Parroting, and “Rewards”).    

Let’s say that you are a new leader at your company and Fred Flintstone reports to you. 
However, you two have never met. There is no reason for Fred to believe that it is safe to talk to you, much less disagree with you.

So, you need to leave your office and talk to your employees. You need to find out about their likes and dislikes, their families and all little things that make them “them.” This does not build any trust at all. It builds familiarity.

At some point, you ask Fred’s opinion on some issue, such as his thoughts on the new health plan. You relax and use your Verbal Jeet (EPR) skills. Of course, you start with the “E,” which is Empathic Listening. You would say something like, “You know, I am not sure about this new health plan. What do you think?” You then shut up and listen from Fred’s perspective. 

So, you are asking Fred to take a risk. Is it safe for Fred to talk to you and give you his opinion? Will you attack Fred if I don’t like his answer?  Or will you be a passive aggressive and stab him in the back later, like most people do?

Fred then tells you what he thinks about the new health plan. You listen, nod your head and give him some “encouragers” or “Rewards” like, “OK,” “Yeah, I can see that” and so on.
When Fred is done explaining it all to you, you need to Parrot it all back to him. That means you have to repeat whatever he said to you back to him to his satisfaction before you move on. So, you would say something like, “Alright, let me make sure I’ve got this. You are saying …” If Fred disagrees with your interpretation, then he has to tell you again. You don’t move on until Fred agrees that you have it. This ensures a common understanding.

But let’s say you repeat everything back to Fred correctly. Great! If you agree with Fred, tell him so. If not, if you disagree with him, you have to give Fred a “Reward.” 

Whenever you disagree with another human and you are trying to build trust, you have to give that person a “Reward” to protect their self-esteem.  So, you would say something like, “I see what you are saying,“ or “I understand your point of view, but I am not so sure I agree with all of that.”

You are showing Fred that it is safe to disagree with you. The topic of conversation does not matter nearly as much as it matters that you prove to Fred that it is safe to disagree with you.  
That is how you built trust.

Over the next several months, you need to engage with Fred and continue to prove that whenever you disagree with him, it is safe. That is trust. You did not tell him to trust you. You showed him.  

Then suppose that after five or six months of having these types of conversations, you then called Fred and said, “Hey, I need you to come to my office. I found some papers in here and we need to talk about a few things.”

Is Fred nervous now? No, of course not. Why?  Because you have proven that it is safe to speak up and disagree with you by using your EPR skills. That is trust building and it proves that it is “safe.”

Scott Warrick,  author of "Solve Employee Problems Before they Happen: Resolving Conflict in the Real World." has been an employment and labor attorney, HR professional, and popular speaker for more than three decades. His clients range from small organizations to Fortune 500 companies to governmental institutions. He travels the country presenting seminars on such topics as Employment Law Resolving Conflict, Diversity, and General Differences. You can learn more about the book and Warrick by visiting

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Have You Ever Contemplated Your Own Demise?

Guest post from Nick Liddell:

Imagine that three years from now your career will be in tatters. You will have no job and your prospects of future employment will seem bleak. Your carefully manicured career path simply won’t materialize.

Now ask yourself: What are the most likely reasons for things going wrong?

And now ask yourself: What could you start doing today to prevent those reasons from happening?

Whether it’s a career plan or an organizational strategy, we tend to feel far more comfortable developing positive, purpose- or mission-driven strategy. It’s what some people call ‘backcasting’: setting a vision and then working back from it to identify the steps you’ll need to take in order to achieve it. It’s our go-to approach to strategy development because it helps us to break down long-term growth planning into practical, incremental activity. During implementation, progress can be measured against the plan and corrective action taken. Backcasting is positive. It’s practical. It’s logical. But in the real world, it’s far from a guarantee of success.

Failure is commonplace.
Which is why in 2007 research psychologist Gary Klein pioneered the idea of a pre-mortem: imagining that a project has failed and using the thought experiment to identify flaws in your plans. Pre-mortems function the opposite way to backcasting; rather than thinking positively about how to achieve a desired outcome, teams are tasked with identifying potential sources of failure and finding ways to mitigate those sources to make the strategy more resilient. In many respects, pre-mortems are the perfect complement to vision-led strategy planning.

There’s also a cultural upside to embedding pre-mortems into your (or your team’s) approach to planning: a 2017 study by researchers at Harvard and the University of North Carolina found that people tend to avoid precisely the type of feedback that pre-mortems are designed to elicit. One of the biggest issues with vision-led strategy development is that it encourages us to seek out confirmatory feedback; the moment we establish and communicate a plan, we create a strong incentive to search for evidence that it’s a good plan and that it’s working. Conversely, we tend to avoid disconfirmatory feedback because it fails to confirm our own view of how good a job we’re doing. Pre-mortems have a cultural benefit because they create a safe space for disconfirmatory feedback.

What’s the worst that could happen?
Like many things in life, strategy is rarely perfect the first time round. And even the most carefully conceived plans can go awry. As Mike Tyson famously observed, ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’ Whether your plans are personal or organizational, they must eventually confront reality – and reality always wins. Contemplating the worst that could happen to your plans won’t turn you into one of life’s great cynics or pessimists. It will demonstrate to the people you work with that you’re realistic about your human fallibility, that you’re open-minded about outcomes and that you value alternative points of view – particularly when they differ from your own. Introducing pre-mortem thinking won’t just make your strategies and plans more resilient: it will make you more resilient, too.

Nick Liddell is co-author, with Richard Buchanan, of Wild Thinking: 25 Unconventional Idea to Grow Your Brand and Your Business. He is Director of Consulting at The Clearing, helping global brands grow and make a difference. For more information, please visit:

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Is your Leadership Development Developing Leaders?

Soft skills are increasingly important in creating successful leaders

Guest post from Gary S. Shamis:

One of the most gratifying experiences in writing a leadership book is the introspection
youallow yourself in the process. You are able to hold a proverbial mirror to your successes and failures, and view them both more objectively. If you are honest with yourself, the experience can yield a treasure trove of teachings.

As I wrote Building Blocks — Case Studies of a Serial Entrepreneur, I realized that over the years, I toiled with many of my failures, but I never analyzed the variables of the successes. It wasn’t until I could put those lessons into play as a consultant that I realized their value.

I managed a national top-forty accounting and consulting firm (SS&G). In thirty years, I grew it from 20 people to 500 with revenues of $80 million before it was acquired by BDO. Several of our initiatives set the industry standard for successful firm management.

Today, I help (mostly) professional services firms — law, accounting, insurance, architecture, finance — attain growth, productivity, and profitability. Together, we identify deficiencies and implement solutions.

Remarkably, the most consistent area of incompetence pertains to developing leaders.

Culture Club

Talent was our greatest asset and as the industry became more and more competitive, the urgency with which to attract, hire, and retain exceptional professionals became paramount. The cost of turnover was too great. We analyzed, overanalyzed, and re-analyzed what future leaders, Generations Y and Z, sought in a desired employer.

In turn, we adapted our culture to meet their needs — casual dress codes, flextime, healthy lifestyle options, community involvement, challenging work, more defined advancement. As a result, our voluntary turnover rate hovered at six percent, significantly lower than the industry average of 25 percent.

While it didn’t take long to weed out incompetence, we recognized that technical ability alone was not reason enough to promote professionals to managers. Inept managers were responsible for losing talent with leadership potential. And in a competitive marketplace, it cost us dearly.

People leave managers, not companies. But more often than not, we do a poor job of preparing them for the role and its responsibilities.

Getting Soft

The issue with leadership development is that there is too much emphasis on the hard skills (technical knowledge, teachable, easy to quantify) and not enough focus on the soft skills (interpersonal skills, subjective, harder to measure).

Ninety-one percent of HR professionals surveyed by LinkedIn believe soft skills are very important for the future of recruiting. In its 2019 trendsreport, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) stated that workplace soft skills are important for the future or recruiting talent and exceedingly valuable for competitive organizations.

Even the nation’s top business schools (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Wharton, Berkley) are injecting soft skills into MBA curricula to support new management models such as remote teams, emotional intelligence, predictive analytics, passion and purpose, and mindfulness in the workplace.

Increasingly, executives are beginning to realize the benefits soft skills offer their organization and are placing equal importance on both. By ignoring the benefits of soft skills in leadership programming, companies are sacrificing the ability to identify strong leaders, whether innately or by coaching their mastery, let alone keep and grow them.

At my firm, we identified the professionals we wanted to invest in, those with the potential and desire. We included courses on working a room, presentation styles, dressing for the occasion, writing etiquette, and creating your brand, and offered a complimentary physical bootcamp to support wellness goals, teamwork, communication, and trust.

Leaders Over Lifers

As you move people up in the organization, ask yourself on what grounds they are being promoted. According to Gallup, “…two things that usually earn a promotion to management have nothing to do with great management ability: tenure and mastery of a previous, non-managerial role.” “This is a flawed strategy with serious consequences for an organization’s engagement, financial performance and long-term sustainability.” Many are generally minor performers. Few, if any, have had soft-skill training in actual management topics such as difficult conversations and delegation.

Employees who possess soft skills can directly impact the bottom line (SHRM). Professional development supporting those skills can be one of the most impactful investments you make.

So how does an organization go about creating a culture that distinguishes between leadership development and developing leaders?

Create a program that addresses the importance of the soft skills (effective communication, difficult conversations, constructive feedback, delivering presentations) necessary for success in the role. LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Report found that the four most in-demand soft skills are within leadership, communication, collaboration, and time management.

Then, consider:

External Development. While it’s most cost effective to create in-house training using senior-level employees, go outside of the organization and tap into true, dedicated expertise.
Personalized Learning. Some will be better than others at developing and enhancing certain skills. Recognize that the experience is an evolution and confidence is gained by practice.
Measurable Outcomes. Performance evaluations should ensure that these professionals are at the very least meeting the expectations the organization has established. Take into account that once-a-year assessments conflict with consistent accountability.

As with all good strategies, the execution, measurement, and evaluation are imperative. Curricula that effectively develops capable leaders is the most vital means with which to ensure their success. Only when developing leaders becomes a natural part of your culture is it successful.

Gary S. Shamis is CEO of Winding River Consulting and the author of Building Blocks—
Case Studies of a Serial Entrepreneur. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.