Leadership Tip of the Week

As I was reflecting on the Monday blog, "7 Leadership Pitfalls Coaching Can Help You Overcome," my original thought was around reasons organizations might hire an external coach. Then it hit me that many of you may want to know how to coach these 7 pitfalls in your own organizations.

Click below to watch a short video with some thoughts on how you can coach top talent.  

If you enjoy these types of videos please let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.

If you know someone who might benefit from these tips, please send them the link to the blog and encourage them to subscribe!

7 Familiar Leadership Pitfalls That Coaching Can Help You Overcome

Many of the clients I am privileged to work with are in one of three places when it comes to leader development.

  • Some are just now entering the yearly planning stage of what development will look like for  the rest of 2015 and the first half of 2016.
  • Others have been in the cycle for two quarters and are in the midst of assessing progress.
  • Still others have no formal development plan, nor any accountability for development.

No matter which of these situations you find yourself in, assessing the trajectory of the needed development is a valid metric.

Your process for assessing development is vital.

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Accountability is important for any type of development plan.  If you do not have an anchor to hold you steady you are likely to be in a constant state of sway with your development. Here are seven reasons why organizations (or individuals) invest in coaching for the development of leaders. Which ones resonate most with you?

Why Organizations Invest In Coaching for Leader Development

  1. Top Talent: Coaching is often thought of as a “fix" for something the leader needs to change in order to be more successful in the organization. However, in medicine we know that a vaccine is a valuable investment to prevent diseases from occurring. The same is true in leader development. Why not identify top talent in your organization and prepare them for the next role instead of waiting for a mistake to occur?
  2. Core Leadership Values: According to Pamela McLean, PhD CEO at the Hudson Institute, “Too often we lock ourselves into the passions and values of our young adult years and burn them out during the middle.” I have seen this across the spectrum of my work in organizations. Examples range from pastors in churches who start their ministry with a zeal for the Lord and become conflicted when achievement or proving oneself becomes more prominent. This is true for engineers as well who are enamored by the science they love and the creativity it brings, only to have a clamoring for personal power and self-regard as they mature. A coach can be a valuable asset in assisting organizational leaders in sorting out and assimilating core leadership values.
  3. Individual Contributor to Leader: This is not an easy transition for anyone. Organizations who promote from within usually give people small assignments and then measure success. As the person proves they can do small tasks well, more responsibility is added. With continued success, leading a team becomes inevitable. This is a monumental shift in paradigm. Until this transition moment, the person's success has been measured by their own personal achievement. Now their accomplishments will be tracked based upon how they lead and inspire others. Some intentional coaching on what needs to transpire in the first 90 days of leadership (not management) is key to attaining this transformation.
  4. Leadership Presence: Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President of the Center For Talent Innovation, says in her book Executive Presence that “no man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant role, without this heady combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who is the real deal.” Many of the leaders I work with are experts in the fields of finance, engineering, information technology, ministry, and sales. Their industry success has given them tremendous credibility, but something is missing. Consider the sales leader who is so focused on driving sales that he misses other organizational priorities such as customer satisfaction in times of product outages. The poise to understand broader organizational issues is often an issue of a leader stepping outside of themselves and letting go of winning the battle to fight a better war. A coach can be extremely valuable in getting a leader to look around to see bigger issues and to provide context.
  5. Skills: Just because a leader has technical expertise in an area does not mean they have developed a full range of skills to be successful. Consider the person who has been rewarded consistently for having the best idea, who is now told by the organization that they need to show more empathy. Skills such as empathy are not easy to learn in the heat of the organizational battle. Leaders will default to what has made them successful in the past, and take their chances that the lack of skill is not a deficiency that will be career limiting. Coaches can help leaders develop valuable skills in the moment, resulting in changing needed behavior.
  6. Follower Relationship: At times it seems like some leaders are not connecting with followers. Many times they have connected well in the past, but something is amiss in the current role. Edgar Schein in his book Humble Inquiry says that “what is missing….is a climate in which lower-level employees feel safe to bring up issues that need to be addressed, information that would reduce the likelihood of accidents, and in healthcare, mistakes that harm patients.” Whether the leader is a micro-manager, leads by positional power, or even by raw intimidation, a coach is one who can expose this in an a zone of safety so that changes can be made to build a more trusting environment.
  7. Rapid Change: My good friend and colleague Joe Laipple, Ph.D., wrote a book I highly recommend called Rapid Change: Immediate Action for the Impatient Leader. His research and experience shows that when a need for change is recognized, we want it NOW! Joe says if you want rapid change you need to have brief but very frequent touch points with the agents of change. You can not identify rapid changes that are needed and then cover the topic at a monthly staff meeting. It just won’t work. Many of the clients I work with see the need for rapid change but are overwhelmed with the tyranny of the moment. A coach can provide focus, a constant reminder of the change that is needed, and the personal support and encouragement to make change happen at the necessary pace.
[reminder]Do these seven places fit your model for using a coach? Are there any other places where you see coaching would be valuable in your organization? Why not leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts on using coaching in your organization? [/reminder]

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Are You Drowning the Creativity in Those You Lead?

Are you fostering creativity in your organization? What climate are you setting that impacts the creativity of those under your leadership?

Are the tactics you are employing as a leader stifling or fostering creativity and innovation?

Hard questions, but the ones that help us grow as leaders are usually the toughest.

At the end of this article, you will be able to download a free self-assessment checklist that will give you insight into these hard questions.

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Creativity and Climate: Both Affected by the Leader

A recent article1 in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies caught my eye. The authors provide primary research on the effects of scenario planning on people's perceptions of a creative organizational climate.

Basically the question is, "Does the task of scenario planning help people's perceptions of the creative climate in their organization?"

Scenario planning, for those of you not familiar, are activities designed to explore what can happen in an organization in the future. These exercises are said to foster a supportive climate because lots of opinions are sought, many diverse ideas are valued, and there is freedom to explore ideas and to be innovative in the utilization of the ideas.

An interesting question. Does a task like scenario planning improve creativity?

The Importance of the Task

The TASK. This is what caught my eye.

Can just doing an activity give birth to a creative climate in an organization?

I will spare you all the details and just get right to the point of the research. Here is what the authors conclude:

"While this study has found partial support for the hypothesis that scenario planning has an effect on creative organizational climate, specific expected dimensions of creative organizational climate did not show significant changes.”

The task itself did not impact creative organizational climate.

What is fascinating to me is that the task of scenario planning is designed to foster this creative environment but does not always.

Gut check time...

The question in my mind, if we are unsure about the task and its role in fostering a creative organizational climate, is what else could cultivate this type of environment?

It has been well documented for years by early researchers like Maslow, Herzberg, and Knowles that people will naturally seek challenges to expand their skills and expertise. Research has shown that when employees have increased opportunities to engage in activities like strategy and innovation, they have a greater sense of motivation and engagement (Meissner & Wulf, 2012). I am not saying that involving people in tasks like scenario planning is not important. IT IS. Giving people rich development experiences is always valuable in creating leaders in your organization.

Important Tasks Are Not Enough

The point of this research is that just engaging followers in the task, or giving them the developmental experience, is not enough.

What about the impact that YOU as the leader have? Could it be that it is YOU who is establishing the culture, and climate that have a direct effect on creativity?

Is it possible that your leadership has a direct influence on the creativity of those who follow you?

In a nutshell, the answer is yes!

The Leader and Innovation

In a three-way interaction of transformational leadership, employee identification with the leader, and innovative climate, Wang and Rode (2010) found that each of these elements is associated with employee creativity.

Leader, it is YOU!

1. How you lead (transformational leadership) 2. How you connect (employee identification with the leader) 3. How you set the climate for your team

These three elements together are vital to employee creativity.

Consider the tasks you involve people in, for sure. However, self-examination around the impact we are having on followers deserves as much attention as the tasks we involve followers in.

Questions For Self-Reflection

Here are three questions for reflection:

1. Leader, you matter in creating the climate in your organization.  You set the pace. How are you doing? 2. Your relationship with your followers matters. You are responsible for them being able to identify with you. How are you doing? 3. Their creativity is influenced by the innovative climate you are creating. How are you doing?

Valuable Resource (and it is FREE)

Need a resource to assess if you are fostering creative employees? Click here for a free download of our Fostering Creative Employees Check-list.

If I can be of any service to you, or you want to chat, send me an email at info@DrScottLivingston.com and we will set up a time to connect.

Equip.Inspire.Grow.Lead.

1 Thomas J. Chermack, Laura M. Coons, Kim Nimon, Peggy Bradley, and Margaret B. Glick

The Effects of Scenario Planning on Participant Perceptions of Creative Organizational Climate Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 1548051815582225, first published on April 21, 2015 doi:10.1177/1548051815582225

Meissner, P., & Wulf, T. (2012). Cognitive benefits of scenario planning: Its impact on biases and decision quality. Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 80, 801-814.

Peng Wang and Joseph C Rode.Transformational leadership and follower creativity: The moderating effects of identification with leader and organizational climate Human Relations August 2010 63: 1105-1128, doi:10.1177/0018726709354132

The Single Most Important Factor in Leadership

Ok, so I know the title of this article may be a bit provocative and could set off a firestorm with some of my executive coaching colleagues and those who hold leader development close to their heart. Others of you may just not be wired to think in a way that this article is going to take you.

However, when I started this blog I told myself (and now am declaring it to you) that I would be true to two principles:

First, the leadership literature. I want to have my thoughts on leadership firmly grounded in what the research shows effective leadership to be based upon.

Second was to be true to what I believe. When I was launching the blog one of my coaching clients actually gave me this advice: “Scott just tell me what you think, this is what will compel me to read."

So before I tell you what I believe is the single most important factor in leadership...

How would you answer that question for yourself?

Go ahead and think for a moment. Write your response down.

Now let's compare ideas...

Click here to watch my video blog, or here to read the transcript.

What Does Being Self-Aware Cost You?

I had a client recently who said he received feedback that he needed to become more self-aware of the impact of his behavior on others. man-reflection-in-mirror

When I probed for what behavior seemed out of line, he told me that he had been rewarded his entire career for being a critical thinker and deliberate in decision-making. The organization needed to undergo changes to be more responsive in the marketplace and his caution was now being viewed as inflexibility. The feedback he was receiving from the organization was that he needed to be more self-aware of his inability to see things in other ways. He told me, “I need to pay attention to when I am being overly cautious and evaluate if I really am being inflexible or if my caution is warranted."

Paying attention. An interesting phrase...

Paying attention, as it relates to being self-aware, implies that there is a cost involved. When you sharpen your focus on something, you will inherently need to give something up in exchange.  In the example above, if my client is to be self-aware and pay attention to a behavior to elicit change, he will have to give up something in exchange for the attention he is going to give the new behavior.

Here is a simple example: If I go to the grocery store to pick up a banana, a transaction takes place where I give the clerk something of value to me, in this case, money, before receiving the product I desire more than the money I possess, the banana. Pretty simple.

When leaders are told they need to be self-aware of their actions or behaviors, it seems to get a bit more complicated than buying a banana. The process of becoming a self-aware leader requires that we give something up in order to draw attention to what we desire to change or better understand. [TWEET THIS!] This change in behavior must have more value to us than what we need to give up in order to obtain it.

When purchasing a banana, I know what I need to give up to own the fruit. In the same way, if I need to pay attention in order to become more self-aware of what is seen as inflexibility, for example, what must I give up in order to obtain this behavior change? To pay attention to this kind of behavior change will require humility to even get the process started. You have to recognize that you desire the banana more than you desire money and be willing to give up one in exchange for the other.

What does it take for you to humble yourself as a leader?

In this context, to be humble is really about having a clear perspective of your place in the context of your situation.  My client had to get to a point where he could be objective when situations arose. It is quite probable that because he had been rewarded (or at least had the feeling of such reward) in the past for his display of caution, that he installed it as a permanent successful behavior. After all, who does not like a positive feeling?!

His first step in becoming self-aware had already occurred. He recognized the spectrum of behavior he was trying to distinguish. He had described the poles as being deliberate on one end and inflexible on the other. He gave up the freedom to just behave as he had been rewarded. He had to pay, in this case, his normal feeling of being cautious to precipitate a desired change or even recognize the spectrum that he was asked to change along.

Now he must understand the strength of his deliberateness and the weakness of his inflexibility.

Let me illustrate:

To stay in shape, I like to jog. I started having some knee pain. Once a week I work out with a personal trainer for 30 minutes, so I was telling him about the pain I was having in my knee. One of his thoughts was that I had some muscle imbalance, meaning one of the muscles in my leg had become stronger than another. The tension, caused by one muscle being stronger than another, caused a pulling at the joint and, therefore, the pain.

According to my trainer, this weakness causes an imbalance and puts stress on other muscles to become stronger and overcompensate for the weakness.  According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine there are many reasons that one muscle might be stronger than another, such as past trauma, repetitive movements, lack of core strength, poor training technique, emotional duress, and poor posture. He said, “Scott, you have to pay attention to strengthening all your muscle groups so that you don’t have knee pain."

There it was again, pay attention. What was I going to have to give up in order to relieve the pain? The same is true for my client, and for you.

What do you need to give up when you are working with those who follow your leadership so that you “pay attention” to them? If you are trying to listen better to what your followers are telling you, what is the cost to you? What do you need to give up to become a better listener? Have you identified the cost that may be involved for the change to occur?

Feel free to comment on this question. I would love to know what you are thinking.

Are You Leveraging the Power of Thinking?

I had an interesting conversation with a young man whom I coach over the phone last week who is  being considered for a couple of new opportunities in his organization. One of the jobs was a promotion into a new area of the organization for him. The other job was a lateral move within his same organizational function, but with a lot of growth potential.  As he considered his options, his knee jerk reaction was to take the promotion because it had a higher pay grade and a bigger title. Heightened senses of emotion can often cloud our thinking as leaders.

Click to Tweet!

I encouraged him to step back from the situation, disengage from the emotion, and just think with me for a moment. To help him process I asked him a series of questions:

  • Where do you see your career 15 years from now?
  • What are the strengths in your skill set?
  • What positive preferences from your personality profile and temperament will be utilized?
  • Are there any negative aspects to your personality that could be barriers?
  • What is it that you really love doing?
  • When you are working, what gives you energy to where it doesn’t seem like work?
  • How would you describe your overall level of stress tolerance?

There is no magic to the line of questions.  They are simply calming questions to lessen his sense of emotion so that he could clear his mind and think. (How are you doing as a leader to make the environment calm so those who follow you can really think?)

A fascinating result ensued! All of these conversations pointed to him taking the lateral move.

As we were ending the conversation he said, “Wow! I can really see how emotion can get in the way of good judgment and decision-making. If  we had not stepped back from this situation and really thought about it, I probably would have taken the promotion and the risk could have taken me into a dead end career."

The promotion sounded so nice.  Who doesn’t want more money and recognition?  But this is the knee jerk reaction. Clearing our minds from what we are emotionally attached to can be of great benefit to us as leaders.

Sometimes tension and complexity come into our lives and this causes an emotional reaction. This can cause us to not think clearly and lose sight of the true direction we want to take.  Please watch this short video for an example of how this happened in my own life:

As leaders we have to be able to step back from our decisions and look at a range of possible outcomes. If we are not intelligent with our emotion, we are destined for outcomes that may not serve us well in the long run.

Is there a place in your leadership life where emotion is impacting your ability to think clearly?

[callout]Consider this: At your next staff meeting ask each person to give one place where emotion is having an impact on their leadership.  Next, ask each other non-threatening questions to clear the emotion and help each other think more clearly.[/callout]

We would love to hear from you on this topic of clearing emotion to increase thinking.  Please share your comment below.

Do You Make This Leadership Mistake?

I received an email from one of my coaching clients the other day. He asked me to provide him some context on a situation he found interesting. I love interacting with my clients in this way and so I thought I would share the scenario with you and get your perspective, because I would love to know your thoughts on the subject.

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The Email goes something like this:

Hi Scott, I met with a leader in our organization yesterday to interview her for a position we have coming available. This person has many of the attributes and attitudes that we look for in leaders on our team.  She was confident, articulate, driven, has a good background, and answered most questions quite well. She was a skilled interviewer in many respects.

However, when I asked her - in 3 different ways - for a "personal development opportunity" or "critical feedback you've received" she had no answer at all and couldn't come up with anything.  I even gave her an example of one that I've worked on to try to prompt her.  No answer still.

I'm kinda curious now - what's your read on someone who can't come up with a personal weakness or area for development?

Here are some ideas I gave to my client on what could be going on:

  1. Lack of  self-awareness.  This means that she doesn't know herself well enough to know when she has been given feedback, or how to process the information. A lack of self-awareness is actually quite common in leadership development. The Handbook of Leadership Development states that this is a key aspect of understanding ones strengths and weaknesses, what one does well and not so well, what one is comfortable and not comfortable with, what situations bring out the best and worst in us all, and the “whys” behind all of these. Self-awareness means understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the leader and the effect these have on others in different situations and contexts.
  2. Poor listener.  Even though you asked in 3 different ways, it is possible that she didn't understand your question, or she didn't understand the feedback when people gave it to her. In my book, 7 Secrets of an Emotionally Intelligent Coach I describe how this poor listening can happen.  CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF THE CHAPTER WHERE THIS IS DESCRIBED.  In any conversation there are three actually happing. The first is between the two participants. The next two conversations are the ones that each participant is having with themselves. If the conversation you are having with yourself has a “higher volume” than the one you are having with the other person, you are not listening to them, only preparing what to say next when they stop talking.
  3. Arrogance. It is common for the leadership literature to call this narcissism. Another common description is pride, or being so self-absorbed that the feedback that she has been given in the past just washed over her like water splashing on a rock. In this case she heard the feedback and rejects it.
  4. Omniscience. A high level of knowing is often seen as a positive quality in a leader. Both knowledge and experience can be  very valuable commodities to a leader. Robert Sternberg, when writing in the area of foolishness in A Handbook of Wisdom, describes that a leader who has expertise, power, or a great deal of knowledge, runs a risk of falling into the trap of believing they are all knowing. If a leader falls into this trap input from outside sources begins to lose value compared to the information they already have.
  5. Lack of  self-regard. Self-regard is an ability to be able to accept yourself for who you are and have an appreciation for your positive attributes and your perceived negative traits, while still feeling good about yourself. This means all of the external confidence that had been observed by this leader in the interview was just window dressing.  It is possible that her view of self was so low or distorted that she was afraid that admitting a fault would show such weakness that her ability to get the job would be in jeopardy. Steve Stein and Howard Book, in The EQ Edge state that leaders who fail because of difficulties with self-regard can not tolerate to have their “warts” visible publicly.

At this point many of you are trying to see if you can come up with another attribute that I may have missed. Let’s resist the temptation (using a heightened level of Impulse Control) to be organizational psychologists, and instead turn our thoughts more to ourselves.

How are YOU doing on being able to answer the question, “What is your personal development opportunity”? I am sure you all could mail this one in... you know, just write something down so that HR and your boss are satisfied. But why not stretch yourself a bit? Get honest with yourself and ask, "what is it that I really need to work on that is going to make me a more effective leader?"

If you ever want to talk about that sometime, let me know. In the mean time I would really value your thoughts on other leadership mistakes you have made, or that you have seen made. I would like to compile a list of these and do a post someday so that we can learn from each other.

Relational Leadership and Pareto’s Rule

The Pareto principle is one of the most common axioms I hear leaders describe when considering outcomes. It is also commonly known as "the law of the vital few" in which 80% of the effects we experience comes from 20% of the efforts being given. bag-and-hands

I experienced this with a client who was having a difficult time getting motivated setting goals for the year. He had completed an analysis of his business and noticed that of his 165 or so clients, only 13 of them provided 80% of his business The other 150 or so clients  made up the remaining 20% his business. He knew he had to call on all of his clients, but felt like "what is the point".  If this was a straight college grading scale , he could get a “B” with the 13 clients without even trying, and the thought of trying to motivate the other 150 was overwhelming.

This client happened to be in sales. However, the analysis he provided is really about leader and follower relationship. Sales are the result of the relationship with the follower, or in this case we call them clients. Those of you who lead churches for example may not think in sales terms, you may have other metrics you measure. No matter the metric, if you lead people, it is about the investment in quality relationships that matter.

The client and I decided to make a game out of motivation by saying, “OK let’s NOT think about this year”. He is 32 and I challenged him to think about where he wanted to be in his career when he was 60. He said he had no idea, and I was reminded of the children’s classic, Alice in Wonderland. Alice was walking along the road and when she came to the fork was puzzled on which way to go. The Cheshire Cat looked down out of the tree and said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”.

[Tweet "Leadership lesson: 'If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.'"]

Developing yourself as a leader requires that you know where you are going. So I had him write a narrative, a story of about 1 page that is descriptive in nature, of what he envisions doing in his sixth decade of life. I challenged him to be descriptive and emotional in his writing of this one page novel.

This writing of your personal narrative can be quite freeing as a leader. If you are feeling stuck in your goal setting, write a picture of what you want your goal attainment to be and then work backwards to create the steps that are needed to get you there.

Now that my client has identified what he wants his story to be, he must work to turn it into reality today. We took Pareto’s rule and continued the game by putting his customers in three buckets, then describing what his emotional connection is to them for the year. Next, we applied what we all know about top performers: that if you stretch and care for them they will produce even more. Notice there are two important facets here:

  1. Stretch them. Give them bigger goals, bigger targets. Believe in them, really show them that you think they can do it.
  2. Care for them. Support them. Give them resources. Encourage them along the way. Top performers will do great things for you if you support them.

Here is what it practically looks like:

  • In the first bucket are the 13 who provide 80% of his business. His connection to them is one of nurturing He wants to support them, and provide for them so they continue to grow. The idea is to give them the support they need to reach their full potential. However 13 is probably too many for him to fully invest in without ignoring the other 150.
    • From these 13 in the first bucket, he now chooses 5 who have the potential to make his vision a reality. We called them Drive with 5. He picked 5 clients that he wants to be more assertive with in their development. He wants to be intentional about getting more business from them, and really give them a lot of his emotional energy and time. The development with these 5 is where the stretch comes in. Give them bigger goals. Give them more of a chance to have breakout kinds of success. Invest in these leaders. Spend more time with them and give them coaching and encouragement.
  • His second group of clients are the 150 or so customer that make up 20% of his business. The question to ask about this group is: "Who has potential to rise into the first bucket?" He is having a dating relationship with them. Getting to know them better and deciding for next year which one or two of them will become part of his Drive with five.  What are their strengths? How can he capitalize on their strengths so they can become more self-aware of what their potential really might be?
  • The next segment is those still in the 150 group we call Future Harvest. This is the balance of your universe of relationships. This pool will always be there for you in small capacity. They are important because they make up your world of relationships and potential. They are important for stability and support. You need them, so do not ignore them. Love them and treat them well.
  • Last, my client sent me his narrative, as well as the names of his Drive with 5 and his dating list. We are going to discuss them on every coaching call. Accountability is another key to making your dream come true. Even Alice in Wonderland had the Cheshire Cat to hold her accountable!

I believe this process can work whether you are in sales, a minister in a church, an IT manager, or a company president. We all have a finite number of relationships we engage with that make up our 100%. The question is, which ones are you going to invest in to make your life goals a reality? Keep in mind that this leader I was working with had over 100 clients and so the narrowing to 13 and then to 5 to really invest in made sense in relation to his overall numbers. If you have 60 in your sphere of influence you may only want to invest in 3 or 4. If your sphere is smaller you might pick one or two. The actual number becomes less important when you are starting. The most important question is, besides yourself, who are the leaders you are going to invest in to make your leadership vision a reality?

[reminder]What are your thoughts about breaking down the important relationships in your life like this? [/reminder]

[callout]I have seen this process work time and again to help people analyze relationships for leadership investment. I believe it will work for you to think about who in your sphere of influence you should be intentionally developing to allow your leadership vision to become a reality. Click here to download a free pdf tool that will walk you through these three steps to help you analyze your relationships.[/callout]

Leadertivity

This morning I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about how Microsoft is growing into middle age. Since I am there too, and the article was titled “New Tricks for an Aging Microsoft”, I thought it was worth my time to give it a glance. As I was glancing over the column the thing that stuck out to me is that Satya Nadella’s point of emphasis for the 40 year old company is productivity. tEREUy1vSfuSu8LzTop3_IMG_2538

I began thinking about my own productivity. How am I doing? I shifted immediately to my calendar and looked at all the phone coaching appointments I had today and thought, “Whew! I am busy!” But then it hit me that I have coached other leaders before on falling into the trap of being busy and not being strategic. Had I fallen into the same trap by looking at my calendar or my routine tasks and not being productive? The answer was a firm and resounding yes. So while what I have on my calendar is tactically important today, most of the tasks are not helping me become a better leader by investing in those who read this blog to become better leaders.

I am not demeaning the important work you have to do today. Some of the routine tasks and meetings you have with those in your sphere of influence are really important and need to be implemented. That said, are you leaving any time in your busy schedule to develop yourself or those on your team or in your organization to become more productive leaders? Are you encouraging them in the art of “Leadertivity”?

[Tweet "Are you leaving time in your schedule to develop yourself to become a more productive leader?"]

I went to Dictionary.com and looked up the word Leadertivity. You guessed it, the word is not there. But I had to chuckle because the suggestion that the website provided said, “Did you mean Leadfoot?” I clicked on it and the definition is “a person who drives a motor vehicle too fast, especially habitually”.

When I was thinking about Leadertivity, driving a car was not what I was thinking. However, it seemed there is a parallel. The question I had for myself is “am I habitually investing in the productivity of leaders? Am I creating or enhancing value in myself or in others on a regular basis so that my organization and the organizations I serve are in a better place to face their future and make their vision happen?” That is Leadertivity.

[Tweet "Leadertivity: creating or enhancing value in myself or in others on a regular basis."]

What are you going to do today to invest in yourself as a leader? Perhaps you could offer some encouragement to a young person showing promise. Maybe there is a difficult choice you have to make and sitting down and writing what you think and how you feel could offer you some clarity. Or maybe there is a relationship that seems out of whack and you need to search your personality to see if there is a change you need to make in your approach. Whatever it is for you, invest in Leadertivity today.

[reminder]How are you creating or enhancing value in yourself or in others on a regular basis so that your organization is better equipped to meet its future?[/reminder]

7 Tips to Executing an Exciting Open Meeting

Are your meetings boring? Are the people who need to engage sitting on the sidelines? Do the extroverts in the room claim all the attention? Do you need to get a team engaged and moving, but not want to dictate who does what and when? photo-1420330454265-b682d57d0592

If these things frustrate you, consider holding an Open Meeting. An Open meeting will add energy to your meeting process, and the people who usually sit on the sidelines will engage immediately. Even the introverts on the team will have equal voice with the extroverts. Your team will be engaged in how they think the problem will be solved, and if they own it, they will implement it.  All you have to do is invite them, and follow a few simple steps listed below.

The Meeting Environment

The meeting room is set up in a circle (this is a must) and large pieces of quartered flip chart paper and markers are in the center of the room. Participants are then invited to come to the center of the room to grab a paper and marker. Everyone at the meeting has the right and the responsibility to place items on the agenda. They write on the paper what is on their mind around the need or the reason for the meeting. There is no right or wrong answer, and this method allows anything that normally would be left unsaid to be articulated.

After the agenda is created by the pieces of paper being posted on the wall, the issues are grouped by topic. These become the major discussion groups. A grid can be created with times and locations where breakout meetings can be had around the topics. You then turn people loose to attend the topical meeting that interests them the most. They can stay at one topic or float from topic to topic. There can be as many of these topics addressed as needed, usually about 60 minutes per topic works well. The group then comes back together at the end of the day to hear action steps to solving the problem. You will need group leaders to report out and send meeting minutes somewhere, but that is it. You have had a productive meeting and the participants did all the work!

Here are some steps to hosting a successful Open Meeting: 

  1. Describe the Need/Problem/Issue. When you invite people to a meeting you should craft a clear reason for why they are coming together. Maybe you have a high unemployment rate in your area and you would like input on how to address the issue.
  2. Invite the right players. To have a successful meeting of any kind you must have the right players in the room to make the decision. I used this meeting technology for a Mothers Against Drunk Drivers meeting. The organization invited Moms, teachers, school administrators, judges, police officers, probation officers, gas station owners (where a lot of alcohol gets sold to minors), student leaders, ect. They had all the right people in the room to solve the problem at hand.
  3. Have No Agenda.  You read this right. You can have a subject you want to talk about, but you must be able to let go of the outcome regarding how the need/problem/issue is to be solved. The group will do this for you, and you will be AMAZED!  If you have an agenda or an axe to grind then do not use this type of meeting. Just send everyone an email and tell them what to do. Hope that works for you.
  4. The Meeting Environment. You will want to arrange chairs in a circle. In a circle all meeting participants have equal voice. Place quartered pieces of flip chart paper and markers in the center of the room. Tell the participants to create the agenda around the need, and post the papers on a wall. Arrange the papers into topics. Have different people take topics and host breakouts around them. I usually run 4 or 5 breakouts at a time. If you have 15 topics you can do 3 sets of 5 breakouts easily. Each breakout creates a report of their findings and presents to the larger group at the end of the day.
  5. Responsibility for Results. Since the group created the agenda, the topics, and the action steps, they are responsible for implementation. As the meeting convener you just have to make sure things are on track.
  6. Keep People Informed Post Meeting. I recommend you put all the action steps into some tracking mechanism like a Google Doc. I have recently started using Asana, which is an App that tracks project management and assigns tasks.
  7. Celebrate Success. When the project concludes, please do not forget to celebrate. People need to come together to see what a great leader you are and to be able to see what they accomplished together.
This process was first described in a book called Open Space Technology: A Users Guide by Harrison Owen. If you are interested in more detail I highly recommend this book so you can get some stories about successful implementation.

7 Common Mistakes New Leaders Make and How to Avoid Them

I just finished a great couple of days training some folks who are in their first year of formal leadership on the importance of emotional intelligence and the impact their emotions have on their leadership effectiveness. photo-1427088625471-da8a7193afd3

As I am reflecting on the day we spent, it occurred to me there are some common pitfalls those who are new to leadership must avoid. Who knows, maybe some of you who are leadership veterans may want to check yourself against this list.

7 Common Mistakes New Leaders Make

  1. Contribution Method. You have been rewarded in the past, and most likely even promoted, because of your strong individual contributions. You will still need to contribute as a leader, however, what you do and how you do it shifts radically. Rather than getting your individual tasks accomplished, you now need to establish the culture that those who follow will work in.Check Yourself: Do you spend more time on directing people on tasks or creating your teams culture?
  2. Personal Satisfaction. When you were an individual contributor you probably got a lot of personal satisfaction from the tasks you accomplished and the recognition from your supervisor, colleagues, and peers. This changes drastically as a leader. The recognition is rarely for you personally, as it shifts to be more about what the team is able to accomplishment.Check Yourself: As the compliments for a job well done decrease, shift your need for personal recognition from tasks done well to serving others and getting personal satisfaction when others succeed. Your reward is when they succeed.
  3. Feeling Overwhelmed. In your past role as an individual contributor, you had it all together. It was all about you, and you had a successful flow to your work. That feeling of flow now feels more like you are running a race in lead boots. You want to go fast but there is just so much. The “knee jerk reaction” to feeling overwhelmed is, “Let me just do it myself”.Check Yourself: Most of you, while your work feels urgent, are really in more of a marathon and not a sprint. If you are sprinting, find the most urgent thing and focus yourself and your team only on that for a very short time. If your not sprinting, start your morning with some reflection time on what needs done today. Make a prioritized list and work your way through it. Do not add new things to the front of the list. At the end of the day review your list and feel good about what you did.
  4. Face your uncertainty. "I don't think this person on my team is performing but I am not sure.” Obtaining a clear standard for performance is imperative for those new to leadership. They are coming from an individual contributor role and they know the benchmark they had for themselves, but can be unsure at times if this standard is appropriate to apply to everyone across the team.Check Yourself: If you are unsure of the standards needed for your team, write down what you think they should be. Talk them through with your manager, a mentor, or a coach. Then sit down and talk with your team about the performance standards. Share with them the expectations you have and create a dialogue around the topic. Do this with an attitude of high standards but flexibility. If the team has input or questions along the way be open to them and never hold a defensive posture in this open setting. You can state your position clearly but you never want to seem defensive in the conversation.
  5. Be Yourself. I am sure there are people you emulate in leadership and that is ok. Leaders who have shown courage in the face of adversity, or someone who took a moral high ground when it was not the popular position. Perhaps they showed care and compassion when you needed it most. These are all fine qualities to try and emulate. Think about them and reflect on how you can emulate them if you desire the same trait, but realize you are not them. Trying to be someone you are not can put you in an uncomfortable bind.  Most teams I talk to when I do interviewing for multi-rater feedback say they want a genuine leader, someone who is authentic, and that they can trust.Check Yourself: Create a list of 6 to 7 leadership principles. These are short statements that reflect who you are as a leader. You can include things like: your vision, your standards for performance, the skill you expect, how you communicate, respect for people, what you value in work or in life. After you create this list share it with your coach or mentor. Have them challenge you on each point and hold you accountable to live this way. Have a poster made and put it in your office with the principles on it. Be sure and share it with your team so they know the leader you want to become.
  6. Differentiate Responsibility from Accountability. You are responsible for the team. They are all accountable for their own contribution. I know it seems like a fine line here, but you have to find a way to separate the individual work that people on your team need to do from your own performance. You will be judged in total for the team, you are accountable for what they do and how they perform. They are responsible for their individual contributions. Do not take responsibility for their actions. Hold them responsible for what they do. They will respect you for this and you will build trust along the way.Check Yourself: Can you clearly delineate between these two areas? If you find yourself too much into the detail of their work then you may be crossing this line. Allow those on your team freedom to create accomplishment.
  7. Clearly articulate: Repeat your expectations over and over and over. Repeat it until you see it. You can not just say it once and think they have it. Repetition is the mother of all learning. Too many leaders I work with say, “well I told them 4 weeks ago”. If what you are trying to get across is really important to you, find as many ways to say the same thing as you can.Check Yourself: You will know when they get your expectation when they are doing it and not just hearing it and saying it. Watch the behaviors. When they go from hearing to doing they will have achieved knowing.
[reminder]So what do you think? Are there any common mistakes you see new leaders make? Let's see if we can build on this list.[/reminder]