How Would You Vote on This Leader Development Debate?

I was recently interviewed to be a coach for a leader who runs a company owned by a venture capital organization. After laying out the situation for me, the person seeking to hire me asked a question I hear a lot at the end of an interview: “Based on what I have shared with you, Scott, can this leader be developed?”

My answer to this question is almost 100% of the time a dramatic Yes!

Man putting a ballot into a voting box - USA

It is not can a leader develop, rather, how difficult will it be for them and what are the chances that the desired change will be observable by followers? My position on leader development is simple: Anyone who has a positive, healthy, mental outlook can be developed through coaching – IF they really want to change. In coaching, we often spend too much time focusing on the skill of the coach and not enough on the desire of the leader to change.

I love what Angela Duckworth says at the end of her book, Grit, about this. You can grow your grit in one of two ways; from the inside-out, which is to cultivate your interests and practice. Her perspective is that you can also grow your grit from the outside-in via parenting, mentoring, friendship, and yes, even coaching. The question is not if change can occur, the question is how and how long.

I thought it might be fun to look at the “can the leader be developed” debate via a case study. This will give you an opportunity vote on whether you think these types of leaders can really learn and change.

Case Study

You have an opening in your organization that has been created by the retirement of someone who has previously held a few different roles in the organization, but held the one he is retiring from for about 8 years. There have been several applications made since the posting of the job, but the choice has been narrowed down to two candidates. One is an internal candidate and one is an external candidate. Neither candidate is perfect for the role, so you know that some development is going to be required for this new leader even though both have a lot of experience. Experience is key, but part of your challenge is deciding on the type of experience you will value most. You get the feeling that some changes need to be made in the role. In your interviews, both candidates claim to be agents of change and have somewhat of a track record to support their accomplishments.

The Internal Candidate

Industry experience is on her side. She has been around for over 25 years and has strong support. In fact, in a meeting with the person who is retiring from the organization his quote regarding this internal candidate was that “Your decision is a no-brainer. The future success of the organization and everything that he has worked on his entire time in the organization depends upon the internal candidate being chosen.” You value the perspective of the retiring leader, but as you reflect on his actions and reputation he really has been a “bully” in how he has accomplished organizational changes.

There is no question she is bright and has a strong network in the organization.Those who love her almost have a blind passion for her. People who you have seen think deeply about problems and how to solve them in other circumstances, seem to just answer robotically in a sort of “corporate speak” type affirmation when you ask questions about her qualifications for the role. You get this blind stare from them that feels like, “What other choice do you have?”

Since this candidate is internal there is quite a bit of history on her performance. Your impression, as you reflect on her accomplishments, is that you are really not clear on exactly what she did. Your knee jerk reaction is that her decision-making at times has been poor. It even seems like over time her story changes to fit her image, you want to call it unethical but you really can’t because you just don’t feel like you have all the data to make a claim like that.

As you pour through her files, your impression is that her judgment hasn’t always been the best, but there is nothing in her Human Resources file that supports your feeling. The feeling you get is that the entire file isn’t there, like something is missing or been deleted but you can’t put your finger on it.

You write down on your yellow note pad: Internal Candidate development needs are decision-making and judgment. Perhaps a bit unethical.

The External Candidate

Talk about slinging from the hip. This guy just doesn’t hold back at all. Opinionated and brash is what comes to your mind. You are surprised that of all the external candidates the organization looked at his name rose to the top. There were several other qualified choices, but in the end, this “outsider” rose to the top. Go figure.  You even ask yourself if you should start the external search over, but alas, getting a leader in position is more important that starting over. It seems like this search process has drug on way too long.

This external candidate has a lot of experience, although all of it has been built in a different industry. When you check around to get the scoop on him you find that there really seem to be two kinds of responses from those you talk with. Those who love him… really love him. Those who don’t… really don’t. Doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

Since the candidate is external you wonder how his experience will translate into your organization. His external accomplishments are right in front of your eyes. You cannot deny his ability to make a tough decision. Countless people you talked to about him tell stories about the decisions he has made even when they were not the most popular.

As you pour through your notes on him, since you don’t have a formal file and some of the information he promised you has not come in yet, your impression is that while he can make the tough decision, he is a bit of a lone ranger. Your biggest concern is around fitness for the role. Really it comes down to his social skills, and he can at times be unpredictable and insensitive.

You write down on your yellow note pad: External Candidate development needs are Organizational Savvy and Executive Presence.

Your Decision

If these were the candidates you had to choose from to fill this important leadership position in your organization, what would you do? What questions are rumbling around in your head? Can you use good impulse control as the owner of this decision, separate yourself from your emotion, and make an informed decision? If you have all the information you need, what would you base your decision on? Does developing as a leader come into the equation? Which of the two candidates is most coachable? Which one seems to desire learning and development the most?

The Development Debate

You have a tough decision. Speaking strictly from a leadership perspective, which of the two candidates from the case study will respond to development and coaching? You know you are going to have some work to do no matter which candidate you choose. What kind of stories will you be able to tolerate as you observe the candidate you choose as a leader?

You glance down at your yellow note pad, which has reduced all the clutter and noise about your decision, to two sentences:

  1. External Candidate Development Needs: Organizational Savvy and Executive Presence.
  2. Internal Candidate Development Needs: Decision-Making and Judgment.

Which of these two is most likely able to change and develop upon the retirement of your current employee?

Homework:

Watch the Presidential Debate tonight (Monday, September 26th) along with almost 100 million other people. Since no leader is perfect and we all need to develop, strictly from a leadership development perspective, what goes into your decision? I would love to know what you think. Send me a comment or a note. I am not really interested in how you will vote, rather I am much more interested in what you think about the nuances of leader development.

How to Know Your Leaders Are Trustworthy

Let me start by saying I usually do not write on political leadership. However, November is coming upon us quickly and this election season has been nothing short of eventful. Is that what you would call it…eventful?

Personally, I’ve had some good conversations about the upcoming elections with colleagues, friends, and for what I’m most thankful for, my kids. It’s been interesting and equally rewarding seeing them do their own research as well as engage in conversations to find out what their mother and I think. What I’ve gathered from my kids and other individuals is a feeling of indecisiveness when it comes to the election. What I believe invokes this indecisiveness is the lack of trust in either of the candidates. Looking at their past actions and decisions, as well as hearing their claims and promises, presents some nonalignment that makes voters increasingly uncertain in the decision they will soon have to make.

Hand drawn TRUST process for presentations and reports, business concept on blackboard..

At times I want to laugh out loud when I hear the pundits saying things like, “We are working on making our candidate seem more trustworthy.” Trust, from my perspective, is not a short-term fix when it is violated. The time to think about trust is before the violation occurs. My hope and prayer for you as a leader is that you never have to work on restoring your follower’s trust. I hope that in all you do, you remain trustworthy in the eyes of your constituents.

It is undoubtedly certain that trust is crucial in leadership, and if trust is broken it makes following leaders more difficult. In Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau’s classic article The Enemies of Trust (Harvard Business Review), several examples of how trust can be destroyed are provided. You may be thinking, “I don’t need an article to tell me that!” as I imagine many of us have experienced broken trust from leaders or even entire organizations (even as I eluded to with the current election). Instead of looking at trust from when it’s broken, I want to give you two items to reflect on as a measure of the level of trust you have earned as a leader.

Be Clear and Consistent

In previous blog posts I have emphasized the importance in communication. I’ve also mentioned the importance of repetition so that what you communicate is remembered and repeated by your followers (hence why I keep repeating the importance of communication.) Yet, communication loses it’s value when the message is not clear and consistent. If a leader isn’t clear when articulating expectations, it is difficult for followers to trust that the leader even knows what it is that they want to be accomplished. Equally, when multiple messages get communicated, the inconsistency of the message leaves you with questions and hesitation, not assurance.

Not only should the message be consistent, but the standards of followers should be on an equal level. Galford and Drapeau suggest that leaders may show favoritism to certain employees so that particular employee stays with the organization, however, the leader “doesn’t take into account the cynicism engendered in the rest of the organization.” (The Enemies of Trust, HBR)

Be Honest

It’s hard to talk about trust without centering the topic on honesty. Honesty is a compliment to trust. Think about a time someone was dishonest with you and the hesitancy you experienced trusting them the next time they gave you their word. That’s a pretty basic example of the value of honesty, but let’s think about some other circumstances where honesty from leaders is valuable. For example, Galford and Drapeau discuss the problems with false feedback and a leader’s inability to be honest about their follower’s performance, whether good or bad, hinders future decisions of termination or even promotion with employees. Not only does this lessen follower’s trust in their leader, but it limits the growth of the organization.

Leaders also must be willing to trust their followers. Putting faith in your followers to complete a task or step up in their own leadership gives value and recognition to the follower. We all know leaders who “hoarded responsibility” from an employee, leaving the employee resentful for not having the opportunity to use his/her skills and develop professionally.

I have a feeling we are all going to be hearing a lot about trust between now and November. These are two metrics I am using to evaluate trust in political candidates. How about you? What will you be using to assess whether or not you trust your leaders?

Where to Go From Here?

You might be thinking, “This is an interesting perspective, Scott, but what do I do with it?” My goal with this post is not to leave you with a list of “should’s and shouldn’t’s,” but to simply get you thinking about the leaders in your life. Whether it’s the ones you know and follow personally or the ones that are connected in your community, what do you trust or not trust in their leadership? Is their communication clear and consistent? Are they honest and trusting of their followers? What would help you trust your leaders? Or, an even bigger question might be, to help your followers trust you?

Homework

Spend some time reflecting on trust and what it means to you. How much do you value trust? How much do you expect your leaders to be trustworthy? What are some other habits of trust that you look for in a leader that we didn’t mention? Let us know what they are in the comments below.

Would those you lead say this about you?

My good friend Kris Bowers is the president of the Indiana chapter of the Kiwanis Club. A few weeks ago she asked me to be the keynote speaker at their annual convention. I was honored to be asked by Kris, who is a classmate of mine from graduate school and a person who exudes servant leadership.

Kris and I had the opportunity to talk over the phone about her organization and the goals for my talk prior to the event. As I was taking notes on what Kris was saying about Kiwanis and the direction the service organization was headed, one theme rang through loud and clear. According to Kris, this organization will thrive based upon the leadership that is exhibited.

Perhaps this is not a shocking revelation to you. I know so many of you who follow these musings truly believe that organizations rise and fall based upon their leadership.

And yet, how many of us fall into the leadership fallacies of:

  • Leader has the best view.
  • Leader is the smartest person in the room.
  • Leader means power position.
  • I got this far, I won’t fail.
  • My experience is valid, so I am better grounded than anyone else.

I have to admit that I have to check myself often to guard against these traps. Just the other day I was talking with my staff about a product we are excited about rolling out in 2017. In the middle of the discussion, I had a moment of self-awareness. It was not an out of body experience or anything like that, however, I found myself both talking with the staff and observing their behavior at the same time. I realized I had been droning on for about 5 minutes with all my knowledge, wisdom, and experience about what we should do and how we should do it.

It was kind of surreal.

In the moment, my mind took me back to the keynote I had done for Kris and the Kiwanis Leaders of Indiana. You see, I had asked these leaders to think of a leader they admired the most, then to write down the leadership quality that was most admirable about that leader.

In a very brave technology moment for me, I had the 300 or so participants text the leadership quality that they admired most about the leader they were thinking of to my PollEverywhere account. The results of their work were shown instantly on the screen.

Here is the actual result of that poll:

screenshot-2016-08-08-11-44-53

Nowhere on this list of most admirable qualities is: Smartest in the room, Most Experienced, Can’t fail, All-powerfull.

As I studied the graphic, I found almost the exact opposite:

  • Listener
  • Compassionate
  • Selfless
  • Humble
  • Positive

If we asked those who follow you to name the one attribute they admire most about your leadership, what word would they pick? What would your word cloud look like that would describe your leadership?

Homework

Spend some time in reflection on the last time you were with your team. Ask yourself, did you listen to them more than you tried to position your agenda? Did you really care what they had to say or did you just hold the time until you could exert your power? Were you able to remain positive even in the face of adversity? What does it mean for you to be humble and how does this attribute affect your leadership?

To Any Leader Who Has Ever Had a Struggle

I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine, Drew Wilkerson, on some interesting leadership ideas.

I was excited because since Drew was my last call of the day and it was Tuesday, which meant Taco Tuesday at the Livingston home. My wife, Kim, and I were getting out all the ingredients so we could assemble our own tacos: tortillas, ground beef, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, etc. I noticed my wife, Kim, struggling to take the lid off of the salsa jar, so I gently gestured for her to give me the jar and proudly assumed the position to heroically twist the lid off the jar. It wouldn’t budge. I put forth a little more effort, twisting harder this time. Nothing. I resorted to running it under hot water for a while, then took a towel to dry it before I tried again. Sure enough, the lid finally gave way and the jar was open for salsa to be enjoyed that evening.

Young woman struggling to open bottle, isolated on white background.

Then it hit me. Drew and I had been talking about leadership LIDS as a part of our time together. During our conversation, the idea of the lid intrigued me. Yes, the lid is there as a cover or protection for what’s inside, but could it also be a cover or barrier keeping you from what needs to be shared or utilized? Many times it’s our own emotions and mentality that is holding us back.

In this blog, we are going to focus on four of these potential barriers: Loneliness, Indecisiveness, Defensiveness, and Selfishness.

Let’s define the LIDS and consider how we remove them. As you read, think about your own leadership and which LIDS you need to take off of yourself. Which of these LIDS is holding you back from sharing what you have to offer?

Loneliness
This could be something you are experiencing in the work place or in your personal life. It can creep up when you’ve physically spent too much time on your own or you feel as if no one can relate to what you are going through or processing. Feeling alone is difficult, and doing alone is even more challenging. As humans, we are meant for relationships. Although alone time can be rejuvenating, we aren’t meant to remain there in order to progress or thrive.

Remove this lid: Invite people into your world. Whether it’s including them on a project you are working on or asking someone to get coffee. If the loneliness doesn’t subside and you are having trouble processing or expressing your thoughts, consider talking to a mentor, counselor, or coach that can help you.

Indecisiveness
You may say that being indecisive comes from the inability to make a decision either because there’s seems to be no wrong or right way to go. While that’s true, I also see a lot of fear behind decision making. What if the decision I make is the wrong one? Yet making a decision is going to keep you moving while indecisiveness keeps you stagnant. How can you lead people if you aren’t really going anywhere yourself?

Remove this Lid: Make a decision. As the familiar Nike brand claims, “Just Do It.” Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from moving forward. Making a mistake or taking a wrong turn doesn’t mean you failed, instead, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.

Defensiveness
In the great American sport of football, the defensive line has a responsibility to keep the other team’s offense and quarterback from advancing the field with the ball. They push. They fight. This creates struggle and tension, not to mention it is exhausting as they keep it up until the other team scores or it is their turn to play offense. I bring up this example because we tend to think of defense as protecting, yet the defensive line isn’t protecting anything. They are pushing back and preventing advancement. We can be defensive in our own lives thinking we are protecting something. This could be our job, our reputation, or more often than not, our pride. In this case, protection is a fallacy and our defensiveness creates a barrier and tension that prevents the advancement of our goals or our team.

Remove this lid: It takes some intentional awareness of your emotions to see when you may be acting defensively. Your heart might start beating faster, your body temperature rises, and you may feel your lips tighten or unconsciously cross your arms. Try to identify what happens when you start to feel defensive, why you are feeling it, and what you might think you’re “protecting.” How is your defensiveness hold your own team back?

Selfishness
Putting your needs and desires before others is the easiest way to explain selfishness. It’s even easier, unfortunately, to get caught up in selfishness if we don’t stop to think about what we are doing or behaving. Consider what your priorities are right now. Are you focusing on your own advancements and needs? What about those of your team and followers. Don’t get me wrong, self-care is important, as long as it’s not at the expense of another person.

Remove this lid:
Think about your goals, priorities, and needs. What would it look like if you included your team in those goals, changing “I” statements to “we.” Even call on your team and followers to find our what their goals and priorities are, then think about how you can help them achieve their goals. Practice humility by stepping back, letting them take lead on a project, and praising them for a job well done publicly. Trust me, their success will be your success.

There may be other things you struggle with as a leader besides these four. I would love to hear from you and to have you describe your struggle. I promise two things: not to name you in any posting without permission, and to provide some perspective on overcoming your struggle in a subsequent post. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but as a community, I know we can all be better when we lean on each other.

Homework: Think about our LIDS analogy above and identify one of them that you need to remove. What action steps or conversations do you need to have in order to remove them? What benefits will come to you and your followers when you remove the lid?

Don’t Miss This Shift in Leading Your Team

A new trend in performance management is changing the landscape in the relationship between leaders and followers. In a recent article (At Kimberly-Clark, ‘Dead Wood’ Workers Have Nowhere to Hide) the Wall Street Journal reported on how organizations like Coca-Cola, GE, and Accenture are moving away from traditional yearly performance reviews to more real-time coaching and feedback.

Top performers in all the generations, from millennials to baby boomers, are applauding this shift. Those who desire feedback to grow and improve are ready to get more frequent, relevant, and actionable input on their performance.

Portrait of young business man and woman sitting in cafe and discussing contract. Diverse businesspeople meeting in hotel lobby reading documents.

The Story: A Tale Of Two Perspectives

Remmy had worked with Shelia as a market analyst for 18 months. While Shelia considered Remmy a solid performer, her perspective is that he is not anywhere near ready for the promotion he asked for at his year-end review 6 months ago.

Shelia’s Perspective

Remmy has a solid development plan that was put in place 6 months ago. We reviewed the plan at our monthly one-on-one meeting, and for every two steps forward Remmy takes another one backward. He has done a much better job of partnering with his marketing and training colleagues. Remmy just doesn’t seem to hear the coaching and feedback I am giving him on being more assertive in sharing the data he collects.

Remmy’s Perspective

I have learned everything I need to take the next step in my career. I have done all of the items on my development plan but I don’t know how Shelia would know. When we meet it is always her agenda and some new fire that needs put out. “Be more assertive,” she says. But really what she wants is for me to just be more like her. We never seem to have time to review how projects have gone or even use 10 minutes of our monthly one-on one time for me to get any feedback besides be more assertive. Shelia is so busy and I feel like if I am proactive with her about my development she will just give me some line about millennials all being alike. “Impatient” is the label she uses most. I heard a podcast recently that said if you want to get ahead you had to switch companies. I like it here, but maybe the reality is I need to move on.

What Shelia is Missing

Emotional Intelligence is being aware of your emotions and those around you. Self Awareness is where this discipline begins. Part of this self-awareness is recognizing your perspectives and biases as a leader. Another important part is being able to express them.

I want to acknowledge that there is a lot going on in the case study above. There are many twists and turns it could take.

The aspect I want to focus on is Shelia’s perspective. This is what needs to change. I would argue that Shelia has all the skill she needs. She is most likely transfixed on a perspective that has served her well in the past. The question is, does this perspective still serve her today?

Shelia observed at some point that Remmy could be more assertive. Point taken. Is she self-aware enough to know her investment in Remmy has been less than adequate? Is she aware that Remmy has developed, but that what is stuck is her perspective?

There are three dimensions she needs to consider improving in executing her role as the leader of her team and individuals like Remmy. Using a leadership model like emotional intelligence can give Shelia the real-time implementable change she needs to coach Remmy to higher levels of performance.

Interaction Frequency

The days of leaders being able to interact infrequently and provide feedback on irregular intervals are in the past. Shelia could consider her:

  • Emotional Self-Awareness – Is she aware of the impact her emotion is having on the situation? Are her emotions clouding her thinking?
  • Interpersonal Relationships – Has she taken the time for the relationship to be mutually satisfying? Does she realize she is reaping the reward of her investment ?

Interaction Relevance

Relevant coaching and feedback means that you have the other person’s best interest in mind and that what is being coached can actually be observed and has context for the improvement.

  • Self-Regard – Having enough confidence in herself and her expectations. Not only stating what can change but why this change gets the person being coached where they want to be.
  • Reality Testing – Ensuring she has all of the assumptions she needs to make accurate decisions. What data could she be missing? Is she seeing everything as it really is?

Actionable Feedback

  • Emotional Expression – Is she being honest with Remmy about how she is feeling or is she defaulting to biases and generalizations?
  • Assertiveness – Can she be assertive and compassionate at the same time?

Emotional Intelligence is a powerful lens for leaders to reflect, examine, and develop their leadership abilities. As expectations for leaders continue to change, what preferences and perspectives are you using that need to be reexamined? Could emotional intelligence be a valuable lens for your self-examination?

Homework

What one change do you need to make in your approach to development discussions? Perhaps you see individual development as a long-term process and you are thinking about repositioning this into short-term events. Thinking about development as taking bites of a meal rather than dinner itself. How could focusing on developing your emotional intelligence help you make this change that is rooted in preference?

What Is Your One Thing to Change?

My family loves to play games, and we have found a new one that everyone can play called Ticket to Ride.

Ticket to Ride is a fast pasted game where you try to connect cities by building railroad routes. What I love about the game is its underlying premise. When it is your turn, you can do one thing and one thing only. You can:

  • Draw train cards
  • Draw route cards
  • Lay down trains
  • Discard route cards

The winner is the one who has a firm strategy to connect their cities with train routes, then implements this strategy by doing the best “next one thing.” The ultimate goal is to gain the most number of points by completing route cards and trying to get a bonus for being the player with the longest train.

It is Nine Arch Bridge near Bandarawela, Sri Lanka

Sometimes it is in your best interest to draw train cards and sometimes you find yourself wondering if you should “waste” a turn by discarding a route card, which will count against your point total if you do not complete the route.

I receive no commercial endorsement from the publishers of the game, but if you are looking to build some family time this is an excellent game to do it, as long as the kids can tell colors and read cities they can probably play. (I will leave it up to your family culture as to what level of competition the game should take with young kids).

Application to Leadership

I love the idea of thinking about leadership as a game. Games change all the time. Different players have different strategies that constantly have an impact on your strategy and implementation.

With games in mind, I really like the Ticket to Ride approach of focusing on the “one thing” you will do that will make the most impact and be the most strategic that moment. What would be that one thing, one move, or one change? Let me give you an example of what I mean by telling you Bobbie’s story.

Bobbie was a participant in a recent Emotional Intelligence 360 training program I facilitated.

In this program, Bobbie received feedback from

  • Her manager
  • 4 of her peers
  • 3 of her direct reports
  • 4 vendor partners she works with on a regular basis
  • 4 family members

Bobbie’s feedback was centered around the Bar-On EQi 2.0, which is a trait assessment of emotional intelligence with 5 structured domains, each with three sub-competencies.
(Domain: Sub-Competency)

  1. Self-Perception: Self-Regard, Self-Actualization, Emotional Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Expression: Emotional Expression, Assertiveness, Independence
  3. Interpersonal: Interpersonal Relationships, Empathy, Social Responsibility
  4. Decision Making: Impulse Control, Reality Testing, Problem-Solving
  5. Stress Management: Optimism, Stress Tolerance, Flexibility

Here are the major takeaways from Bobbie’s assessment:

  • Her strength was her interpersonal relationships and the level of empathy she shows.
  • She rated her level of self-regard much lower than her manager or her peers did.
  • The rating she gave herself showed that her self-regard was much higher than her assertiveness.
  • Everyone, including herself and her family, rated optimism as her lowest competency.
  • Her level of stress tolerance was significantly below where most leaders are, which is putting her at risk for derailing as a leader.

What To Do

Like most people who get any kind of 360 feedback, a feeling of being overwhelmed quickly came over Bobbie. In our one on one debrief of her assessment, she lamented what most do when trying to digest 360 feedback, “I don’t even know where to begin!”

This is a very common feeling when a leader is faced with feedback. Many times this feedback can be paralyzing, and not knowing what to change the leader will just “freeze” on the development and default to doing what they always do.

I said to Bobbie, who was pouring over the pages in her report trying to make sense of it all, “Let’s put the report aside for a moment. Take a deep breath….and another one…and another one…let’s just breathe for a minute and relax our minds.”

As we did this, a sense of calm came over the room. Bobbie relaxed. (I even relaxed!)

I then asked her, “From all the feedback you received, what is the one thing your heart is telling you that needs to change?”

Why the Question

This becomes the fundamental question for leaders who get feedback and want to develop.
What is your next step? What skill do you need to enhance or develop or initiate? How do you need to balance Emotional Intelligence competencies like self-regard and assertiveness?

Finding the one thing out of the myriad of options can bring a settling calm and a real peace about being able to achieve the objective.

In their book on change, It Starts With One, Black and Gregersen make the case that the individual must SEE the change before the change can ever happen.

Way too many people who get feedback never process what the feedback is saying or take the time to SEE it. They move right into action and never really embrace the change.

Do you know what your “one thing” is to move on in your leader development plan?

Note to my family: Look out! I have my Ticked to Ride strategy in place and plan on winning this weekend.

Homework

What is the “one thing” you are working on in your development? Have you taken the time to process and SEE the change you need to make? Are you actively working on intentionally developing yourself as a leader? Change is intentional and it takes one step at a time to win the game.

*If you want to know more about doing an EQi 360 feedback in your organization, or you want to do one for yourself, click here for more information and contact us today! 

Who Else Wants to Develop as a Leader?

As I sit and write this article, the day is August 11, 2016. My beautiful wife Kim and I celebrate 32 years of marriage today.

I cannot tell you all the joy that this relationship has brought me over the years. Which is why, when we were having coffee this morning, gazing into each other’s eyes (well, maybe it was more like a stare waiting for the coffee to kick in…no, no I am sure it was gazing) Kim asked me a most curious question:

“When we got married, do you think we were best friends?”

2016-08-11 13-01-page-001

Those of you with any skill in the art of marital conversation will quickly realize the trap I was in. To say yes would potentially mean we were better friends then than now. To answer no would potentially mean we had not quite reached that “best friend” level but married anyway.

So, like any skilled married person, I said, “Tell me more about what you are thinking.” She said, “Well…” and I breathed a sigh of relief that we were going to unpack this discussion together. Kim continued, “I mean, we are such good friends now. I know we were friends, and probably best friends, but there is no way we were as good of friends then as we are now.” Then she provided the wisdom,

“We have grown so much!”

Ah, yes. We have grown so much.

The Growth

The growth that Kim and I have experienced in our marriage is two-fold from my perspective.

First, we have grown as individuals. Each of us have different interests and callings. These differences in skills and abilities need to be honed, nurtured, and grown. Second, our relationship as a married couple has grown. Over the years we have made emotional and social deposits in our relationship accounts, building up equity and assets we can rely on that help to strengthen the trust we have in each other. This networking back and forth in the relationship relies heavily on the use of interpersonal skills and competencies such as mutual respect and empathy.

In a healthy and vibrant marriage you have to grow as an individual and the relationship has to grow as well. Both are important.  You certainly cannot focus on individual growth only. If you are only growing as individuals, the relationship will suffer. You will focus on yourself and your needs and the relationship will suffer. By the same token, you can not solely focus on the relationship, stifling individual growth and personal achievement.

Bridge to Leadership

Ok, so I know most of you read this for some perspective on leadership and not marriage relationships. Here is the point, in development, leadership is a lot like marriage. You have to focus on yourself as a leader as well as on your leadership.

Leader Development Is Distinguishable from Leadership Development

Leader development focuses on the skills, talents, knowledge, and abilities of the individual person. This can be in the form of formal courses where the leader does analysis and self-reflection. Courses on personality, such as the Pearman Personality Integrator, Myers-Briggs, or DiSC are examples. Training in emotional intelligence using an assessment like the EQi-2.0 is another example of leader development. There is knowledge of self that is then put to use inside the organization. Learning in the area of core values, or important skills like marketing or sales, are also part of the leader development domain.

Leadership development has more of an emphasis on building social capital, networking, and the interpersonal skills such as reciprocity and trustworthiness. Leadership from a social capital sense builds upon the work of Robert Putnam who gave three reasons why social capital is important:

  • Social capital allows citizens to resolve collective problems. People are better off when they cooperate.
  • When people trust each other they are more likely to interact more often and better with each other. As a result, everyday business and social transactions become less costly.
  • Understanding in the end that our fates are linked.

Leader development is key. It is clear. It is usually what most of us think about when we think of leadership development.

My premise is that we need to work on both, and what gets left out of the mix is our work in actual leadership development.

Think about your organization. Maybe you are in an HR, Training, or Functional leadership position. Whatever your organizational role, ask yourself three questions:

  1. What kind of environment am I fostering that allows leaders to solve collective problems? How are we rewarding and recognizing cooperation over individual achievement?
  2. How are we setting up our work environments and meetings so that they happen more frequently and better? It isn’t the frequency of your meetings that is the problem, it is the quality. Social Capital Theory would say that the more people are together and the better they are together this is what drives costs down.
  3. Do your leaders understand that their fates are linked? Are their reward and recognition systems linked? Do sales and marketing share goals? Have you done disaster scenarios around the possibility that your vision is not realized?

Too many times in the leadership development space, we focus solely on the leader and not really on leadership.

Success in marriage requires both focusing on developing the individual and the relationship. I would argue that success in the organization requires developing the leader and leadership.

Hey Kim, sign me up for another 32 years. Happy Anniversary!

Homework:

Do the 3 question assessment of your organization above. Have the discussion with leaders on your team. What do you need to do in your organization to both improve your leader and your leadership abilities?

Here is to wishing you many happy anniversaries leading your organization!

Are You Missing This in Your Leadership Life?

Spoiler Alert!
There is a free download link for a leader development tool at the end of this post!


I had a chance last week to sit down with a young leader and process with him about why the vision he has for his organization is not being implemented. As we sat together he told his story to me in quite graphic detail. Let me spare you all the gory detail and give you the highlights:

  • He is a passionate leader who is an excellent communicator.
  • The energy he exudes for the mission of the organization is extraordinary.
  • His level of intellect and knowledge of his core business is solid.
  • He is morally solid.
  • He cares deeply for what his organization is trying to accomplish, and he cares deeply for the people in the organization and those they are trying to serve.
  • In the Emotional Intelligence assessment work we did together, he was above average and in most competencies.

So what is the problem? Why is this guy working with an executive coach? (Not that you have to have a problem to have a coach!)

To be honest, that is what I thought when our conversation first started. Then we started to dig into the data…

The Issue

The organization he has been a part of for a number of years was stuck. They just couldn’t grow the business past a certain metric that is common to measure in their industry.

The stagnation issue became evident as we looked over some feedback provided by his peers. One of the interview questions I ask the peers of my clients as a routine part of my data gathering is “What is the vision this leader has for the organization?”

Person after person I interviewed on behalf of this leader gave basically the same feedback in response to the above question regarding vision: “The vision is very clear and we have no idea what steps we need to take to get started. It is like he has been dreaming of this his entire life and we are catching it for the first time.”

I found this feedback around vision fascinating. When he and I debriefed this feedback, guess what…

IT WAS TRUE!

Since his college days, he had dreamed of working with an established organization and taking it to another level in growth. He not only had the vision, but he had the entire plan worked out in his head, even down to the last detail of how this vision was to become a reality.

I actually find this quite often when I work with experts. They have worked the vision in such detail, but others have not even opened their eyes to the possibility yet.

The issue was not that a vision was not being communicated, it was that people in the organization had not been given the time to absorb, process, and own the vision themselves.

As this young leader and I processed this data together, his knee-jerk reaction was “We don’t have time to wait for them to process this. The time is now! They need to get on board or get out of the way. We are going to miss our opportunity. The timing is just right!”

“Well now,” I said to myself, “that doesn’t sound like the person I started this leader development process with.” So I said to him, “That response seems out of character for you, would you like to expand on what you mean?”

He sat in silence. I think he had stunned himself with his own articulation. The seconds literally turned into minutes. We both just sat there, separated by this canyon of silence. I wanted to say something to break the tension, but all the training I have had said just wait, the ball is in his court. He owns the silence and the next move.

“People could be sick or dying, and we have no sense of urgency. I don’t get it,” is what he spewed out to break the silence.

So I asked,“Is it their lack of urgency, or could it be something else?”

Balance

Let me take you to the end of this experience with this leader. Turns out, there was not a lack of urgency on the part of the organization, there was a lack of emotional connection between the leader and his followers.

“But wait a minute,” you might be saying to yourself, “it sounded like this guy had it all together in the beginning.” It did to me, too! At least on the surface. However, there was a struggle to implement a vision that was difficult to figure out. He didn’t have poor interpersonal skills or struggle with communication. The emotional connection issue was in response to this one thing: his vision.

The urgency that the leader was feeling for vision implementation and change was not being offset by his emotional connection competency of patience.

Patience is devoting the appropriate time and attention to others in ways that enhance meaningful interaction. Patience is suspending your personal need for satisfaction and action. Patience seeks to slow down those fast-paced exchanges with others in order to facilitate better decision-making. Patience is not racing ahead in one’s thought processes while missing the nuanced information that others are endeavoring to share. Patience is not missing the opportunities to encourage, inspire, and motivate others.

In leader development, it is always important to keep perspective on a leader who is not connecting emotionally with followers. Without this emotional connection, it is virtually impossible to have the social intelligence needed to achieve organizational effectiveness.

There are a number of reasons a follower may choose to align with a leader. Freely choosing to commit fully to the vision of the leader is a quintessential desire that followers have. What the follower receives in return for committing to the vision of the leader is an emotional connection with that leader.

In our case study above, if the leader doesn’t balance his sense of urgency for his vision with being patient and taking the time to encourage, inspire, and motivate, the entire vision will be lost. Not because it wasn’t a good, valuable, or noble vision, but lost because the leader didn’t take the time for all the followers to truly connect emotionally and buy into where the vision was taking them.

Tool

To assist leaders in developing emotional intelligence and emotional connection with individuals in their organizations, we have identified eight emotional connection skills that have the potential to enhance the engagement of followers. These emotional connection competencies include presence, trust, calm, patience, speaking truth, valuing others, empathy, and openness.

If you are interested in a free pdf of this tool, you may download it by clicking here.

Homework

Download the free emotional connection tool from the above link. Think of something that is not going well in your leadership life with a follower or followers. Identify which of these 8 competencies are at risk. Remember that this is for you to say what you need to work on, not what others need to do. I would love to hear back from you if you recognize any growth in yourself as a result of this tool.

Stop Following Your Passion, Try This Instead

When The Passion Burns Out

We are all told to ‘follow our passion.’ When finding a job, do something you’re passionate about. If you are working on a project or presentation, find a topic you are passionate about. Although passion is important, I challenge you to consider if it is truly sustainable, and if it can remain constant. Much like in a dating relationship, the passion is strong in the beginning, yet over time, the intensity of the passion mellows. This also happens when starting a new position in leadership. You are excited about the possibilities ahead for your followers and are passionate about the work, yet as you settle into the role and establish a routine you find that the excitement has dissolved and the passionate drive has slowed down significantly.

Does this feel familiar to you?

Trust me, you are not alone in this feeling. In fact, I can relate and even share with you what I did about it.

pexels-photo-89860

It’s Happened to Me

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, says one of the grand misconceptions about quitting your boring job so you can have a creative life is that 90% of what you will find in your new life that you are seeking is boring too. It is mundane. It is slugging it out. In my own life, I left my job to pursue my passion and do what I felt would be more exciting. Today, I get entrepreneurs and business people who come up to me and say, “I want to do what you do, it seems so cool.” Now, I am blessed beyond measure, and when I am with my clients face to face helping them become more effective it is awesome.

But I want to let you in on a secret.

90% of what I do is boring.

I have contracting, and invoicing, and managing expectations, and TSA, and delayed flights. But I wouldn’t trade it right now for anything because I do enjoy that 10% that allows me to interact with interesting people. The one thing that motivates me through the mundane are those people, as well as one simple word: curiosity.

Cure it with Curiosity

I propose that curiosity is more sustainable than passion. Curiosity is vibrant and what you as a human being have been created to be. Think about sitting a little kid down with crayons or with Legos. They just started to create and explore the colors. It often doesn’t make any sense to have a purple bumble bee, but we encourage this in kids. When a kid builds a lego building or car, rarely do they ever step back and say, “This is my masterpiece, my life’s work is finished!” Instead, they are curious about their creation and what they can do to make it better, or even do something entirely different with it.

Leadership is much this way. Cast a vision, identify your followers, build your team up, but do not stop there. Become curious about your team, how you work together, and the goal you are working toward. Learn about your followers and look at your projects from different angles. This will allow you to gain perspective of how others see your leadership versus how you see it and allow you to revel in this curiosity.

Stay Curious

Krista Tippet, the producer and host of the podcast On Being, asked this about marriage one time: “Can there be anything more intimate and exciting than marriage?” Two people whose lives become intertwined and intimate to a point that at times they feel as though they are one. A relationship that experiences intimacy and passion, and yet in my own experience is 90% boring.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. My wife is NOT boring! In a marriage, especially when the kids are grown, this becomes evident. Things become routine. We take the basics for granted and most of the time it can seem quite ho-hum.

How I treat the boring is to become curious about what is boring. Taking myself and my needs out of it, and instead making it an exploration of the perspective of my wife. Always learning, always curious.

This is should be your leadership experience: A journey of curiosity with the discipline of organizational leadership. Leadership is a marriage between you and your followers. After some time, this relationship can become very boring, if you don’t remain curious.

The Power of Curiosity

Through curiosity and learning, you’ll strengthen your leadership and build strong relationships with your followers. Your new found understanding will allow you to work in sync and you’ll see your vision arise. When this happens, there will be moments where the passion is reignited and you should enjoy it. Until those moments, remain curious and be eager to learn. This is a safe and wonderful place for you to explore.

Like the famous actor (and most interesting man in the world) Jonathan Goldsmith laments on the Dos Equis beer commercial to “stay thirsty my friends,” I say “stay curious my friends, stay curious.”

Homework

Think about your followers and what you would be curious to learn about them. Plan a team meeting or a one-on-one with your followers to spend time getting to know them more personally and professionally. What can you learn from them? What potential or skills do they have that you could utilize more? What insights could they offer on your current project that you hadn’t thought about? Take some time this week and schedule a couple of these meetings. Let us know how they go or what you learned by leaving a comment below!

All Leaders Should Do This One Thing

It’s been well over a year since I launched my blog.

Along the way, I’ve been inspired to write by something I read or someone I talked to. Other times, I had writers block or felt too busy to write. But making writing a priority has helped me in my own journey more than I could imagine. I thought I would share with you all today a few things writing has taught me and how it can help you, too.

  1. Perfection is Not the Goal

    When you begin writing, just write. Don’t edit. My coach Jeremy Robinson gave me this advice. I love to use Evernote, because when I open Word Document I am conditioned to think 1-inchh margins, New Times Roman font, no misspelled words, etc.” With Evernote, I just write. I explore my thoughts and ideas as I read, then I will come back to them for reflection. Other times I will hear or read something and save it in Evernote. Sometimes I will just outline my thoughts. The main thing is to just write. Projects and presentations demand perfection, while writing is about exploration. Don’t confuse the two.

  2. Let Go of Expectations

    This leads me to an idea I mentioned in last week’s post. 90% of what you are doing is going to become mundane. This is true in any work, project, or presentation you do. It’s also true with writing. Even in my own work, I’ve waited for a mountaintop experience like Moses, where revelation would be revealed to me and only me, then somehow, someway, I would have knowledge and leadership ability that no one else in the nation would have. And then, with grey beard and flowing hair, I would publish this blog and all of a sudden an entire nation would stop what they were doing and listen to what I have to say. Well, you know that never happened and I am doubtful it will. Think about the expectations you have about your leadership or a project and what you think it will do. Decide that it will be okay if those expectations aren’t met and actively look for the positive outcomes that will happen. For me, writing has helped me organize my thoughts and dig deeper into some topics that interested me, many of which I never took time to investigate before beginning this endeavor, which has been truly rewarding.

  3. Write Like It’s Your Job

    I approach writing like I am going to work. I give my dad a lot of credit for instilling in me a work ethic and a focus. My dad was a sheet metal worker who started in the union as a laborer and became a VP of a large industrial construction company. He would do everything himself; paint his house, build his room addition, change the oil in his cars. Now, I don’t do those things, but I did. Even when I didn’t want to and wanted to play ball. Dad would say “You can play when you finish working, but when you are working, work. Now get back to work!” So, when I write, I very much take that attitude. I don’t write on vacation, and I don’t write when I am traveling on a plane to clients. Writing for me is an experience of work that is like surgery. During an operation, you expect to have a doctor’s full, surgical attention; not watching a ball game with one eye on the game and the other on my renal artery.

Writing is a Journey

We often want to think that the obstacles that get in our way or fall onto the road are somehow distractions to our journey. Instead, reframe the roadblock as part of your journey. Understand that how you overcome the roadblock will be a part of your story. The obstacles and the road are an important part of the journey. Enjoy the entirety of your journey, and write about it!

Homework

You guessed it: Write! Try to write three separate times this week. Here are some writing prompts if you need some inspiration:

  • What is one thing you’ve always wanted to try, but never have? What’s holding you back from doing it? What would it be like to try that new thing?
  • Who is a leader that you admire? Someone you know personally or even a historical figure. What qualities do you admire about them and why?
  • “We succeed at our very best only when we help others succeed.” – Jim Collins Do you agree with this quote? Where have you seen it played out in your own life?