Read Seth

Read Seth

Entrepreneurial spirit.

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.

Jackhammers and Leadership

I learned a very valuable leadership lesson when I was 19.  I was working as a laborer on a curb repair crew for the summer.  Part of the job was breaking up the old curbs using a jackhammer.  I remember the first time I was asked to operate it I was very excited – it was loud, dirty, and made me feel very manly.  I received the instructions from my crew chief, and off I went to break up 100ft of curb.  After 5 minutes I started to feel weak and I was sweating profusely.  After 10 minutes I was light headed and almost ready to throw up when I had to stop. It was then I noticed the whole crew standing back laughing at me as they saw the fatigue and nausea overtake me.  When I shut the jackhammer off, my crew chief came over and gave me my first leadership lesson.

“Kid, you have to learn to let the jackhammer do the work.  When you learn to work with it and not try and control it, then you really get work done.”

That summer I gradually learned to let the jackhammer do the work, and as I look back on that day, I realize how it was a lesson for every important role I would ever have – leader, husband, parent, friend, and facilitator.

As I work with new leaders – The biggest mistake I see new leaders make is to over-manage their teams and not focus on setting clear goals and working to remove the things that are getting in the way of their people.  Leadership is exhausting if you opt for total control vs working with it.

As I lead entrepreneurs and their leadership teams through a process to build a strategy and culture focused on performance – I have to stand back and let them work through the change, learn what works for them, and struggle with growing up as a team.  They have to delegate the work that will allow them to lead more effectively.  I have to be patient and persistent.  If either of us tries to do too much for others, it will exhaust us and the effort will not be successful.

In my work as a coach – If I go into a coaching session trying to guess the answers ahead of time and force knowledge into my coachee – it is exhausting.  When I go in with the intent of being present and working through the process of coaching with a coachee, they leave with the strength of conviction and ownership, and I leave amazed at the work that gets done when I am present and allow space for exploration.

As a parent of teenagers – If I go into conversations armed with the intent that I will convince them they are wrong and I am right, it usually ends with tears and loud voices.  If I am patient and work on listening and drawing out what is on their mind and gather their reflections on the event, it does not alway end in a hug with music playing in the background, but it generally ends with energy in reserve for us to work on the next challenge or to celebrate the next victory.

Kid, you have to let the jackhammer do the work.  Leader, you have to let your people do the work.

Coach/Leader, you have to listen well and draw out the reality and possibilities from your partners in performance.

Dad, you have to let your daughter grow up a little, and feel loved on their journey.

Friend, sometimes you just have to sit there and listen, because you can’t cure the cancer, fix the marriage, or bring their child back to life.

What are you challenged with today that you have to learn to let the jackhammer do the work?

Lead well – in whatever role you take on today.

The talent shortage – and 4 tips for what you can do today

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:

  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

 

Becoming Adaptable

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?”

 

What Leaders Do – To Serve

What is a leader?

What does a leader DO?

How do I become the leader that I aspire to be?

Great conversations start with a question.  Becoming a leader requires someone to ask the three questions posed above, and then commit to the work of making the beliefs you have about leadership show up in the habits and skills you develop as a leader.

Six months ago I started a journey with a group of leaders in their field to launch a program designed to help a leader explore these questions, and start DOing the work of being a leader.  The group is called LeaderWork, and we are actually launching a year long leadership development program through our local university (Grand Valley State University).  If you are interested in learning more, here is a link .

One answer to this that is a core belief of mine and shared by the rest of our group – Leaders Serve.

To serve you have to care about the needs and goals of others first.  Not exclusively, but first.

To serve you have to be willing to take time to listen first, and find ways to make the priorities of your people your priorities.

To serve you have to be quick to say I am sorry, because the reality is that things will happen when things people want to do have to be put off for a time because of the needs of the business.  Or you will just forget.

To serve, you have to DO things like:

  1. Getting to know your people at a little deeper level – Why did they join the company?  What do they like about the role?  What are their talents and passions?  What are other ways they can see to contribute?
  2. Let them get to know you – All of the questions in #1 plus things like,  What are my priorities this week?  What keeps me up at night?  What people inspire me?  Why did I become a leader?
  3. Be ready to allow others to help you.  No relationship is healthy if it is only one way, and when we stay open to opportunities for others to help us and for us to help others, good things happen.

What is a leader?

What does a leader DO?

How do I become the leader that I aspire to be?

I believe that if you aspire to be a leader that has great impact, it is critical to start with these questions.

What do you believe?

 

Ignorant vs Stupid vs Agile

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:

For yourself:

  • 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?

For individuals:

In One-on-One:

  • 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.

Just Add Fear – Is this a line in your Leadership Recipe?

Do you ever intentionally try and scare your people?  Is it a tool you use in your leadership toolbox?

Let me rephrase that:

  • Have you ever initiated changes without an adequate explanation  to anyone why the change is important?
  • Do you go long periods of time without bringing the team together to celebrate wins of the past and talk about what the focus is for the future?
  • Does your travel schedule dictate how often you bring your team together?
  • Do customer needs always trump team communication/gatherings?
  • Do you allow months to pass without giving people feedback on their work and asking what support they need?
  • Do you let people hole up in their cubicles and just work for hours/days on end?
  • Do you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, births, and show up at funerals for your people and their families?

The hands on work of leaders, the habits we commit to say everything about our leadership.  Fear is like water, it always finds it’s way into where it should not be and the damage starts without us knowing about it.  Any builder will tell you that creating a 100% waterproof house is impossible, but building well and adequately venting things will help us avoid major damage.  My experience tells me in any new building you wait for the first heavy rain and watch closely for those things that are not built well.  Leaks will show up.  They are always there. Some tips – Don’t start with the question – What is everyone afraid of today?  Here are some questions that will help you watch for/listen for fear:

  • What questions are hanging out there that need answers?
  • What should be our top 3 priorities for the next 6 months?
  • Where are you making progress?  Where are you stuck?  What support do you need to get unstuck?

Listen for confusion or emotions that will distract from our ability to solve problems and work together.  Those are the slow leaks of fear filling up the space in our heads that we need to use for thinking and reasoning to do our best work. Great conversations start with a question.  When it works, we have honest conversations, leading to thoughtful actions, and improved performance.  Fear is always looking to creep in and it will, just develop the habits that does not allow it to stay for long. When we do it well, we allow fear a voice, and we create conditions that don’t allow it to stay long.

To build great culture you have to give fear a voice, and also not give it a place to stay.

3 Tips for Doing One-on-Ones: Skill #1 Approachability

I have developed and coached leaders for a decade now, as well as sitting in the seat as a ‘busy and stressed out executive’.  It was in the latter role that I began to see my own relationships with my people deteriorate because I was too busy and distracted by challenges I could only share with a trusted peer, my leader, or (more than likely) my spouse.  So I know One-on-Ones are hard.  I also know they are critical to leading well in any environment, but especially in a fast paced environment.

One of the key things a leader has to develop is APPROACHABILITY.   The Leadership Architect® by Lominger describes Approachability as:

Is easy to approach and talk to;  spends extra effort to put others at ease; can be warm, pleasant, and gracious; is sensitive to and patient with the interpersonal anxieties of others;  builds rapport well;  is a good listener;  is an early knower, getting informal and incomplete information in time to do something about it.

First, I get to sit with leaders as an outside expert there to support them.  Rarely do I meet with someone that does not fit this – when they are relaxed, maybe having a glass of wine or a coffee, and they are across from someone focused 100% on what they need (my role as a coach).  So let’s start with a few reasons why others don’t see you as Approachable.  Here are some excuses I have heard from some highly paid/skilled professionals as to why they don’t approach you for One-on-One time.

  • She seems so busy, I hate to bother her.  Even when her door is open or she is darting from meeting to meeting she seems deep in thought.  She is a kind person, but I can’t bring myself to interrupt her.
  • It feels weak for me to ask for time.  We have had so many layoffs in the last decade, that I somehow feel like if I ask for time I might fall into the ‘needy/hard to manage’ group that ends up being the first on the list that gets generated as soon as we see a soft sales forecast.  I need the direction and feedback, but end up talking myself out of asking almost every time.  The last time I scheduled a One-on-One I thought about it for almost a year before I asked.
  • I don’t see him doing that with his leader or the board.  If he does not see the value in it why would he do it with me?
  • She mentioned scheduling something once, but that is the last time we heard about it.  Our filter with her on work she asks us to do is jump on it when she mentions it the second time, so until we hear it a second time we don’t think she is serious.
  • To do it means getting past his assistant, who scares me.  One time Jill asked for some time and after the grilling she got from Shannon ‘The Pit Bull’, Jill never went back.  Jill still tears up when she tells the story.  Nobody messes with The Pit Bull.

Here are three moves you can make to be seen as SKILLED in the area of approachability.

  1. You own scheduling the first 6 meetings.  This gets them past the Pit Bull in your life, shows them you are serious, and takes the burden off of them.
  2. Always lace your script with questions.  Start with – What significant things have happened for you in the past week? Then work in:  What are your three priorities this week?, What celebrations have you had since we last met?”  and What support will you need over the coming weeks?  Being skilled at approachability means you get informal and incomplete information in time to do something about it – – – and the only way you get that is to ask questions and listen for what keeps being mentioned by one person or is a theme across your team.
  3. Never miss without rescheduling, and never extend the committed time.  The reality is you are busy, and if you say 30 minutes stick to it.  At least part of your team needs to learn to be brief and focused with the time, and you are not helping it by sitting there for an hour every time.   If they need more time schedule it right there, but end with “How can I support you between now and our next One-on-One?”.

This is the beginning of a series around One-on-Ones.  I welcome your thoughts and comments on what has worked.  I answer all comments on my blog or emails, so send me a note.

Much of leadership is about great conversations.  When we have them, good things happen.  Step 1 is being more approachable.

 

Leadership – The biggest choice you will have to make

As a leader, at some point you must decide what you believe leadership is.

I uttered these words in trU Tips 28, and I can’t stop reading them.  Most of us lead in places where there are no competency models, corporate training departments, coaching pools, or learning and development budgets.  We might not have an exact idea of how to answer this question, and yet it is a question that starts a journey and refocuses a journey.  Once you answer it, these next few questions help you chart a path to personal growth AND significance.

  • Where do you lead in your life today?
  • How would you prioritize these leadership roles?
  • How would you rate your performance in each role?
  • How are you getting better at ________ leadership role?

Continue reading

Leaders and One On Ones – Know your voice

I was timing at a swim meet this past weekend for kids between 8 and 13.  What do you think my primary role was?  Timing?  Actually – no.  My primary role was encouragement and support.  Making sure they were in the right order for the next race and telling them what they did well during that race.  It was easy, because my natural voice is to encourage.  I have known that for a while, and in order to be more effective at using that voice I have had to work on knowing when that voice is NOT the one that is needed at that moment.

Do you know your natural voice when faced with someone that is depending on you for some level of support so they can do their best?  This is one very important piece of leadership.

One important message I share in any leadership training I do is that part of the leadership job description is NOT mind reader.  There are several ways to help leaders get more skilled at this, but the easiest is to ask questions and listen well.

We can make our jobs as leaders easier in the One on One by doing two things:

  1. Asking some scripted questions so we can gauge how the other person is feeling.
  2. Use the question How can I support you? coupled with multiple choice answers of Coach me / Direct me / Not sure.

 

I continue to publish templates for people to use in establishing healthy and productive conversations with their people that result in thoughtful actions and lead to higher performance.  Here is the page of templates, and here is the newest version of the one on one form that incorporates the two tips I shared above.

By the end of my swim meet I had recorded times for every child who swam in my lane, experienced lots of smiles, and everyone started and finished the race they were supposed to be in.  My natural voice came in handy, but so did my directive voice (go!).

As a leader, learn your voice and help your people tell you when it needs to change.