Passion – I am torn on this topic by people that come up to me for advice on starting their own business and realizing the independence they long for. I have learned to listen closely for their why, and if they start with the outcome of entrepreneurism and not the work, they have it backwards. I challenge those people (and myself) to keep the focus on the gifts you have and the work that excites you. Seth Godin shifts our perspective on our gifts by challenging each of us to think of ourselves as Artists – and makes the comment Art is the intentional act of using your humanity to create change in another person. He goes on to share that most artists can’t draw.
Hidden in the whole conversation of performance is passion. Here are three things I have learned about passion of the artist:
- Passion is the hidden ingredient in performance: In my book People-Centered Performance I share my belief that Performance = Talent + Passion + Work
- Passion does not have to reside in just the work, it could be the team, or the cause, or even the need to eat.
- Passion is without complaint, so if we can do the work with excitement and ownership, and without complaint, we are close.
- It is impossible to be an artist and not have passion.
A great summary of passion came from a recent book I read called The Boys in the Boat. In it, the master shell builder George Pocock talks about his work and what drove his choices:
My ambition has always been to be the greatest shell buiilder in the world; and without false modesty I believe I have attained that goal. If I were to sell the stock, I fear I would lose my incentive and become a wealthy man, but a second-rate artisan. I prefer to remain a first-class artisan.
I like watching for passion in others, and instead of starting with a pen and paper to write your statement of passion, start by observing and talking to others. There is energy in watching the artist work, and they can be found all around us.
Remember, most artists can’t draw, and most artists aren’t entrepreneurs.
Below is an excerpt from Eric Schurenberg’s column in the March 2015 edition of Inc. Magazine. He is the editor. I also think Inc. is the best source of leadership advice for entrepreneurial minded leaders. Here is the full post.
. . . ideas alone don’t build companies. Building takes leadership, and leadership takes continuous, counterintuitive, ego-minimizing work. That was one lesson I took from a recent half-day meeting led by Alan Mulally, retired CEO of Ford and Boeing. . . . . “Keep reminding yourself,” he kept reminding the room, “it’s not about you.” It’s about the plan. The leader’s job is to ensure that the team has a compelling vision; to help everyone understand the strategy for realizing that vision; and to see that everyone is working together to implement the plan. When teams truly need to mesh, it doesn’t matter whether you were once the world’s best coder or salesperson or idea man. Your job is now facilitator. Behavior matters. . . . what was allowed at Boeing and Ford: admitting problems and asking for help. What was not: texting in meetings, finger-pointing, putdowns, or anything else that interfered with a sense of shared effort. “Working together works,” says Mulally. “Smart people working together always works.”
In my second chapter of my book(People-Centered Performance) I talk about the OBN leader – the one who knows what they OUGHT to do, BUT they DON’T. Mulally’s gives some practical advice for fighting the OBN trap.
As a coach and consultant, performance conversations tend to start with emotions and adjectives. One of the challenges in gaining clarity is to have a conversation that gets down to the root cause, and it also means talking to both the frustrated leader and the individual. Here are the questions I ask:
- Do they/you know what is expected of you at work? What are they?
- Do they/you have the tools and resources to do your job well? (see question 3 for how to deep dive on the specifics)
- If Yes to both 1 and 2, do you feel you/they GWC the role. (G = Get It, W = Want It, C = Capacity to do it) *GWC is from a strategic planning tool I use called EOS
I don’t look at creating a performance focused culture, because my experience has shown me that leaders take this path by starting with accountability and expecting work to get done. I have learned through Denison, a partner company I use for surveys, and my own experience that it is important to focus on creating a culture that supports performance. It aligns with my own belief that individuals own their performance and development, and the organization owns support.
When we start with defining the target together and supporting the work to get there (frequent one on ones, asking what they need, following through, repeating often), more often than not it ends in a trusting relationship where the important things can get talked about. Leaders, this is your work in SUPPORTING performance through the culture you create.
When people ask you what they can do to help, tell them. Beware of asking for the extremes – no help (because you are frustrated, angry at someone, or your EGO is on overdrive) or having them do everything. Sales is a great example because of the frequent ups and downs in a challenging market. When you are missing sales numbers – role playing, prioritizing your leads, reviewing your pipeline are all great support activities. Maybe even asking some people to make some calls for you or leverage relationships they have in some of your maybe companies.
Support is a two way street, it has to be offered and it has to be accepted. The times we get in life when it has to be forced are the tough times. Just ask an adult child who has arranged assisted living or nursing home care for a parent. If the point is reached where a leader feels they need to force assistance in getting work done (what individuals often call micro-managing) it is probably time for you to leave.
I know it is never that easy, but it is that simple. If that outcome is not what you want, then start back at the beginning and make a commitment to change your half of the conversation.
A popular way to explain what you want in a person. I recall a conversation with an HR VP at a Fortune 500 company explaining why they need more people with an entrepreneurial spirit. I recalled the scene from A Few Good Men where Jack Nicholson’s character responded after being badgered about telling the truth with “You can’t handle the truth!” I had a quick image of Jack Nicholson delivering the line “You can’t handle the entrepreneurial spirit!”
To truly support the entrepreneurial spirit people have to have the power to make decisions, to fail, and to get the support to fix them. It is a common method for Seth Godin, which is why I read him everyday. I like and respect the voices of Drucker, Collins, and Covey in the space of personal and business growth, but Seth does it in less words and it always resonates with me.
My advice – Read Seth. Here is a sample.
My second piece of advice – Add a Seth moment to your team meetings for people to share a 30 second clip of something that resonated with them over the past week/month of his posts.
I saw an economist yesterday describe a perfect storm around talent with numbers. These are for my immediate area:
- Unemployment under 5.5%
- Job listings outpacing job seekers
- Flat wages for 3 straight years
The good news:
- People are coming back into the workforce that were not in it a year ago
- People are leaving organizations for new roles (see wages info above – seems to be the only way to get a raise)
So what does that all mean to you as an employer?
My observation – if you are not skilled at looking for talent, you will likely live into the headlines and feel the shortage. Let me explain:
I do a couple of hiring projects a year for some of my partner organizations that are struggling finding people. Here are the two things that I always see when I start a project. (Always is a risky word – but these have been true for all of the roles I have helped with):
- A posting that lacks a compelling reason to work for you. Example: I helped a charter school hire an HR leader. They were struggling finding the right person and I noticed in their listing no mention of kids, the market they served (urban / high poverty), and their mission (every child deserves a quality education). We made some of those critical changes, re-posted, and found a young and energetic candidate that was from the area and reflected the racial makeup of the district. Recruiting is always a challenge – but step 1 is this simple.
- A process that focuses on an external listing and does not leverage the greatest organizational sales team in the world – which is the people that come to work everyday. LinkedIn is just another tool, but if it is used correctly it can be a way to leverage the networks some of your people have to get word out to their groups/networks to generate leads that helps you find people that might not be looking. LinkedIn also gives candidates a way to rigorously check you out. The question I got one time was “What if they ask a few ex-employees and they get scared away?” My only thought is “What if they accept the job and get an earful at the next soccer game after it is too late?”
Here are four tips that build trust from Day 1:
- Spend time in the process. Phone screen, initial in-person, 3-4 hours on-site, and a final conversation where they get to ask all the questions as you hand them an offer. I use topgrading for all full interviews – no cat and mouse interviewing to test their skills at interviewing. Candidate – You tell me your story that includes ups, downs, frustrations, and what your old bosses will tell me when I call them (and I will call all of them). I don’t care if you were fired from a role, and it would be helpful to know why and what you learned from it. My promise – Open access to anyone you want to talk to, plenty of time to ask questions, and encouragement to contact anyone they know that is connected with the organization to vet what they are getting. When candidates start commenting on how thorough your process is and how it stands out for them versus some of the other experiences they have had you know you are doing it well.
- As soon as there is personal contact – all communications happen with a phone call. This includes the “Sorry, we are not going to ask you back for a next round of interviews. Do you have any questions for me about the process or feedback?” There is always the time argument, especially the hiring managers. I don’t argue, because the more people that think that the better chance I have of taking your best people.
- All of my time commitments are hit – no excuses. Note to hiring managers – if you get busy and two weeks pass without you being active in your selection process you send a very strong message to candidates – my time is more important than yours and I will likely lead that way. Most people will choose NOT to work for leaders like that, except the desperate ones. If I commit to a call by Thursday, even if the process is going slow, I call Thursday. I am amazed at the positive feedback from people for just using the manners I was taught as a child.
- The admin/receptionist is part of the interview – through observing and interacting. I want to know how they treat people that they think are not part of the decision making process. That is why they always come through the front door several times and I ask the admin to watch and give me their opinion. This is the same reason senior leaders go to dinner with the CEO and spouses are included. If the vibe from the spouse is not positive, then the candidate is not hired.
Here is a link to the role summary and focus sheet I use to either build or boil down a job description to something that can be used. I also offer other templates around talent and performance if you are interested.
Talent is tight, and yet there are still things you can do to stand out because too many companies still don’t get it.
Are you adaptable?
I am reminded of a conversation I had with Greg Hartle who spent 18 months doing something I thought was crazy. He started with $10 and a laptop and travelled around the US meeting people in transition and helping them. He blogged about it, took odd jobs when he could, and spoke to groups about his journey (fyi – before his trip he almost died from kidney failure – so there was quite a story there).
One observation he made was that the key ability he saw as critical to the people he was meeting in career transitions was the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. For me, it was a simple, yet profound statement as I work with organizations and leaders in growth transitions. Here are two thoughts . . .
1. It does not mean abandon your values and beliefs. Adaptable is ‘able to change or be Are you adaptable? Success in business and in life means understanding and managing the changes that approach. Transitions as leaders, parents, spouses, friends are full of moments where the current way of doing things/reacting will not work, and we have to ask ourselves – in order to fit or work better in some situation or for some purpose.’ If you have to work for an organization with a social focus – great! If we are being asked to build a process around sales so others can do what we do and do it the same way and we resist – hmm?
2. It does mean that when we find ourselves stuck or frustrated, the first question we need to ask is “What about this situation frustrates me?” At the core of our answer is the issue, and in my experience most often the issue is in our recognition of the change and how we will have to adapt to operate in the new normal.
One habit that helps this – When entering change conversations – once we process the issue and the end goal, to simply ask “To be successful, what do we need to: Keep doing? Start doing? Stop doing?”
As a person – I go back to Greg’s observation – “Based on what challenges I face – What do I need to: Learn? Unlearn? Relearn?”
Recently I was handed a job description for a not-for-profit volunteer role. What hit me was the length (2 pages) and the line that said Reports to. I know everyone reports to someone, but if I am looking for volunteer work would I look for another boss or somewhere I could have fun and be significant? By the way, this organization is struggling to get volunteers, and when they do people are confused with their roles. This happened because someone from outside their organization handed them a template for defining roles and they just copied it. As we have formed organizations and worked hard to help align work through multiple levels of management and different functional areas, the job description has become a barrier to work, not something that supports it.
Here are my three frustrations in job descriptions:
- They lack passion: Depending on who you listen to, the percentage of people that are disengaged or only moderately engaged in their work is somewhere between 40% and 75% of the workforce. When we hand a traditional job description to someone it is an invitation to be mediocre and uninspired. It is almost as if people need to work hard to get excited about their work (and luckily 20-30% of them do) because too often we don’t give them a lot to work with.
- They are long on detail and short on performance: Where are the top 5 priorities in this role and how we will measure success? Remember leadership is not how people perform when you are standing there it is about how they run the business when you walk away. 15 – 20 responsibilities with no metrics for success is not a performance focused approach to work.
- They don’t invite people to think about What more could I contribute?: Seen this line before – Additional projects as assigned. Message – As your leader I reserve the right to give you any other kind of work and you need to do it. Wait here while I go lead and be ready to go when I get back. (sorry for the Dilbert moment – but am I right?) When we list 15-20 things we take away space for people to dream or choose to jump into an area of need and make a difference. What if we just listed the additional projects you were thinking about that would help move your business forward and make this role more significant?
- Share the significance of the job: Instead of focusing on 4-5 sentences of General Responsibilities, create a section called Job Purpose, and use it to define why this role exists in an organization. Not fluffy language like create traction or cultural beacon, but significant action works like owns, leads, builds, creates, or guarantees.
- Only list 5-7 items and each one gets a measure: There are 4-5 things that every job does on a daily basis and there is a way to measure success. Focus on sharing that.
- Include HOW work is accomplished SEPARATE from what they do. 99.9% of companies are less than 500 people, and most companies are not going to create values statements that stick to the walls. However, every business has a culture and expectations for how people should work together. Those are values, and need to be spelled out. When we do that a couple of things happen. First, we can hire the type of person we want because there are specific things we look for in people and we can tell them. Secondly, your company will stand out in the hiring process because nobody talks about this. NOBODY!
I publish a variety of templates to help people do the little things of managing talent that will make a big difference. Take a look, and under Onboarding is the Role Summary and Focus form. As always, yours to use and if you make improvements I would love to see them so I can share with others.
We inspire people when we invite them into something more significant. Rewriting the job description gives people space to do things that matter, whatever the job. This is not everything to managing talent well and building a great culture, but it is a start. Go start well!
Ignorance is defined (Merriam-Webster.com) as lack of knowledge, education, or awareness. In contrast, the definition of stupid (Merriam-Webster.com) is having or showing a lack of ability to learn and understand things. The fine line between being ignorant and stupid is the ability to learn.
Taking that one step further, in research done by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger they identified one competency common to all people that became successful leaders – learning agility. It is defined as the ability and willingness to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions. People with this quality fail, but don’t normally fail multiple times on the same issue and find a way to apply learning from the past to new situations so they can find success.
I also recognize that some lack the ability to learn certain things, and yet I have dozens of examples from clients who work with people with disabilities or special needs that have seen learning happen because they raised their expectations of those individuals and stopped treating them like the labels that had been put on them were permanent.
There is not test for learning agility, but there are some practices that allow people to share their capacity and willingness to learn. You know my mantra – Great conversations start with a question. When we have honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions, the outcome is improved performance. That is learning agility in action. Here are some questions that test for it:
- What do I want to learn this year?
- What did I learn this past week / month / year? Did I do it the easy way (someone helped me) or the hard way?
- What were recent successes and failures?
- What do you need to learn faster? What support do you need?
In Performance Conversation:
- What did you do well this past year?
- What could you do better?
- What do you need to learn?
In the end, there is no difference to a leader from those who don’t have the ability and those who do not want to demonstrate the ability. All organizations have these individuals, and hopefully do not have too many of them. The latter reason is the most prevalent from my experience.
Sometimes I wonder if removing labels from our politically correct society soften feedback to the point that it is hard to hear. Maybe we should use the words ignorant and stupid more to help people see their options more clearly. People with learning agility will see the challenge in the direct feedback. People without it will be offended – at least we would know who is who.
I remember the conversation vividly. His call came two weeks after my Situational Leadership class and his frustration was evident.
I am asking all the questions you gave us in the training, but they are not giving me any answers. The How can I support you? question is just creating awkward silence, when I know they are buried and complaining. I feel like that training was a waste of time.
That conversation was over a decade ago, and started me on a quest to better support leaders and those they lead in having more meaningful conversations.
So here is my response after years of working with other leaders and individuals in this space.
1. Be patient – The lens of a leader is generally one where they see themselves as nice and approachable, so not answering questions confuses them. Too often, people do not see them as approachable. I can think back to an extremely approachable leader I was working with, and the feedback from her team was She is so busy, I hate to bother her with my problems. Her approachability was impacted by people liking her too much and not wanting to bother her.
Her fault? No.
Her problem? Yes.
Creating the space and continuing to share WHY you believe this time is important is the step to focus on.
2. Look for opportunities to DO support – Talking about support is one thing, but people need proof. Your best people will only need a little proof. Your lowest performers will need a lot of proof. Focus your time and energy on your best people, and continue to provide evidence of your commitment and INVITE your other team members to join the performance conversation.
Notice I did not say try to convince them of your commitment. People have to make their own choices, and you need to focus on what you control which is your actions and keeping what you are thinking in the OPEN part of the Johari Window. (see my video to hear about the JoHari Window)
3. Be patient, and celebrate your successes.
Summer can be a good time to re-start relationships because people are relaxed and have lots of things to talk about. Use this time to build relationships and invite people into more meaningful conversations about their future and the future of your business.
Just don’t get bogged down by the people that do not want to go there.
If you are interested – here is a presentation I created to support individuals in managing their own career and performance. A full whitepaper is available on request – just ask.
Relationships are tricky. They start at random places – soccer games, first days of a new job, school functions, board meetings. They only actually become a relationship, a thing that we can point to or hold up as something that has been created if we continue to deal with each other or are connected in some way. See the basic definition:
Relationship (noun) – (Merriam-Webster.com)
- the way in which two or more people, groups, countries, etc., talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other
- the way in which two or more people or things are connected
We have to be careful to define it as a TRUe relationship just because we are connected through something like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. This connection could be a great way to maintain a relationship, but is it how we create one?
There is a difference between creating and maintaining a relationship, and especially when onboarding a new person or leader into your organization. Creating is the intentional work of forging connections and establishing positive behaviors towards each other. Maintaining is the work you do to make sure trust continues to exist and there is a pull (not a push) to stay connected in some way.
It is easy to call something a relationship. Great relationships take some work. Slow down and build first. Summer is a good time to slow down and build.