leadership skills

Are You Intentional About This?

An old friend recently called me and told me about her work. Her company really values leadership and sees it as a competitive advantage in the marketplace, but they view personal development as the individual's responsibility. Much like how they expect my friend to dress business casual when she comes to work, but they are not going to take her shopping.

You may work in an organization that takes a more proactive approach and provides classes to attend or gives you a budget to spend on yourself for your own development. You may even work in an organization that doesn't care about your development at all, they just want the job done.

No matter what type of organization you work with, planning your own development as a leader is paramount to your improvement. We can not simply hope that we will improve or leave our development to chance.

So, what exactly does development look like? Development is about:

  • Growth as a person

  • Finding a new skill

  • Advancing yourself

  • Creating something new and exciting

  • Breaking out of the routine so that you become the person YOU desire to be

Perhaps you want to improve your position or your skills, yet you just are hoping that it will happen. Hope is a poor outcome predictor. Instead of hoping something will happen we need to intentionally engage others in our development.


You are conversing with a peer while waiting for a meeting to start. You say, "Hey, I am trying to speak less in meetings, but when I do speak, I am going to try to have more influence. My goal is to draw others to my ideas, rather than beat them into submission with my words. Could you observe me over the next few months and give me some feedback on how I am doing?" Admitting we need to develop something brings us face to face with the reality that if we do not make a change we will be stuck where we are for a long time. This takes courage and vulnerability.

Being intentional with your development allows you to go to other leaders, and even followers of yours, asking them to partner with you in the creation of the more advanced you. This may be scary, but so is skydiving, or running your first half-marathon, or going on your first date. Scary in an exhilarating sort of way. It demonstrates a healthy and respectful fear.

Sharing an aspect of your leadership development plan allows three important things to occur:

  1. You are declaring that leading is important to you.

  2. You are showing humility.

  3. You are saying to others that stagnation is NOT OK with you.

If you are collecting feedback by involving others in your development I want to encourage you to pay attention to the accompanying emotion. Are you feeling sad or encouraged? Are you motivated or discouraged? No matter the emotion you are feeling, focus on what is being said and how you can use it to improve your leadership.

So, how are you involving others in your personal development? I’d love to hear your comments around the topic of intentionally developing yourself as a leader.

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.


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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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]