Leaders – The 4 Questions We Are Afraid To Ask

Are there any questions you do not ask because you don’t want to hear the answer? 

As a husband, one question that always makes me nervous is –  In a year from now, what do you hope has changed?  This question digs deeper than just uncovering any recent inconsiderate remarks I have made or recalling a stressful entry into the house from a long day of work.  The answer always reveals something significant and important.  I still fear this question.  t is hard to ask.

Here are the top 4 questions that leaders are afraid to ask:

  1. How am I doing?
  2. From your perspective, was I right or wrong?
  3. What should we be celebrating? 
  4. Imagine we are sitting here a year from now – What one thing do you hope has changed? (it is just not significant in relationships)

It is hard to ask questions that, when answered truthfully, will put us in a position to have to make a change.  You might be wondering about #3.  In a world where leaders strive to move things forward and often see problems piling up faster than problems going away, celebrations often become barriers to doing work.  Is fear the reason?  Maybe not.  But if the outcome is the question does not get asked, does the reason matter?  I thought it worth including.

It is hard to ask questions that will likely result in someone criticizing something we did or adding more work to an already full day.

It is easier to get lost in our work, to do lists, or superficial conversations.

To combat this, it is important for leaders and organizations to develop HABITS that provide an opportunity to listen.  Things like:

  • Yearly employee engagement surveys
  • One on one time every two  weeks.
  • Frequent Breakfast with the CEO events.
  • Yearly/Quarterly performance discussions.

Of course, you could ask the single question or do the employee engagement survey, then do nothing with the responses.  Is this more harmful than not asking the question?  I have an opinion, but what do you think? 

Do you have any other difficult questions to add to the list?

Four lessons from recruiting pastors – that any organization SHOULD use

For the last 18 months I have been fortunate to be working with and leading a fabulous group of people to fill two open roles for pastors.  While I have worked in the for-profit world doing this work before, it was a new experience doing this in a not-for-profit organization.  I learned that when talking with a person called to a profession of service, their passion is infectious.  It made the evenings go by quickly.  Here are 4 lessons that can and should be applied across any effort, whether it is for-profit or not-for-profit:

  1. Everyone deserves a response:  Responding to every inquiry with a timely response was a practice.  Every letter from a candidate received a letter back.  We also adopted a practice of providing a verbal response to every candidate we actually talked with, whether it was an actual interview or an exploratory phone call.  It was not always an easy call, but we did it because it gave us a chance to offer encouragement and prayers.  Remember, not-for-profit (especially church) leaders are not just pursuing a job, it is a calling.  NO has the potential to hurt more, and they deserve much more than silence.  I was surprised how many stories I heard of committees waiting several months to call back after an interview.
  2. Some “Just for them” Interviews:  When people are pursuing a calling, the interviewing process is often more of a discernment journey.  Many have left something else behind to pursue this career.  It is important to see these candidates (new grad, 2nd career, etc.) as great people on an amazing journey, and giving them 30 minutes to have a conversation with you is part of the process of equipping them with greater clarity on what path is right for them.  Make the interview more than your process, make it our process.
  3. It Still Needs to by Rigorous, without being Ruthless:  This is a sentence I use when describing goals of the process in front of a candidate so they understand how important it is to thoroughly explore if this is the right role for them at this point in their journey AND to get them the information they need to make a personal decision about us.  References, using personality assessments, multi-hour conversations, and maybe a personal appearance to demonstrate their skills / passions / beliefs are all part of it.  
  4. Be willing to celebrate a NO:  I remember the phone call vividly.  Listening to a candidate we loved read a well thought out letter why he felt called to another place.  I also remember smiling because of the soundness of his reasoning and the effort he put into being nice to us.  I did my best to turn the next 2 minutes into a party, even though it meant 7 more months of work for us.  Sometimes our needs don’t come first in a process, and believing that changes how you approach it to from the beginning.  Thinking of that call still makes me smile.

I agree with Peter Drucker, leading in a not-for-profit situation is one of the best leadership development opportunities for anyone in industry.  It is a good reminder of the basic things that still matter, and that a great process not only finds a great person, but allows you to lift up some others along the way.  We (for-profit world) have a lot we can learn from the not-for-profit wold

Approachability: A practice

I stumbled upon an article titled How to Get Anyone To Like You In Two Minutes or Less in my monthly edition of Bottom Line.  Admittedly some of these list articles can get kind of cheesy, but the first one hit me:  Use a slow-flooding smile.

I think back to a recent conversation about the onboarding of a new executive and after 9 months the feedback was “not approachable”.  We explored the reason why?, and the feedback was that when they are in the office they are on the run all day and do not stop by to say Hello.  Sound Familiar?

In my coaching practice, this is a very common area of focus.  As part of the coaching relationship, a client makes a commitment to a practice that will help them make a shift through a combination of self-observation and practicing some personal change.  So my quesiton:  How would a relationally challenged executive use a slow flooding smile practice?

First, recreate that feeling of a slow-flooding smile.  Allow your face to just relax. Now think of someone you really enjoy and imagine them approaching you in a hallway.  As you approach them, think of something funny they did or said, or one thing they always do that makes them unique.  Now allow your face to reflect what you are feeling inside – if it has not already.  What did you notice about yourself?  What happened inside?  What happened outside?  Without using a mirror, describe what parts of your body/face changed?

So here is what a practice might look like for someone addressing a need to connect with people more effectively:

  • Commit to leaving 2-3 minutes early for 1 meeting a day and take the long way and look for someone to run into.
  • When you see them , let your eyes focus on them and:
    • If you recognize them, think:  What about this person makes them special?  Think about a time when you saw them at their best?
    • If you don’t know them:  What does their face / pace / posture tell you about how their day is going?
  • When they make eye contact, say ehllow, and share with them what you were thinking.  As you talk, relax your face and allow the corners of your mouth to turn up a little.
    • It might sound  like:

Hi Mike.  Seeing you today jogged my memory about how great that visit was with customer x last week – and the way you rolled out the red carpet with lunch, the tour, and connecting them with some of the workers on the line made a huge difference.  What has you excited or energized this week?

  • It might also sound like this:  

 It looks like you are deep in thought about something important.   What has your brain working so hard?

  • As you part company, make a Thank you statement and offer an encouraging word.   Relax your face again and allow a smile.  It might sound like this:

Thanks for sharing what is going on.  I like to hear about our wins (or our challenges).

  • As you walk away, ask yourself:
    • What did I notice about the person?  Was I right?
    • What did I notice about them when I spoke to them?
    • What did I notice about them when I smiled?
    • How did the exchange/the smile make me feel?

Slow-flooding smiles come from the heart telling you to smile, not the brain.  People notice the difference, and we feel the difference.  Try this practice today.

Start: Performance Conversations Stop: Performance Evaluations Here is a template.

Evaluations too often end in a grade. The grade overshadows the richer part of the discussions like:

  • What does the next year look like?
  • What problems do I need your help to solve?
  • What things do you want to do more of?
  • What priorities would you set for our team?

trU Tips 13 is based on the feeling held by many that their performance evaluation is not working. In some cases it is just not being done because their is no raise to be given. Want to hear more? Interested in comparing your solution to a template I have successfully used with a client?  Read trU Tips 13.

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Great Teams are Like Great Family Vacations

I just returned from a two week family vacation spanning 3940 miles and 9 states – all in a car.  It was great! . . but not all the time.  Somewhere in the drive across one of our beautiful, but LONG western states it hit me what a great family/team I was traveling with.  It also hit me that successful family vacations and successful teams have lots of similarities.  Here are a few: 

  1. Commitment to make the best of it – When the car starts it has begun and no amount of complaining changes it.  Great teams and families disagree.  Debate, complain, argue, maybe scream . . but when the car starts, it is time to make it work. 
  2. Something for everyone – Asking the question in the beginning What would you like to do? changes the journey.  When people get to do certain activities they want to do, it makes non-grumbling participation easier for other have to do activities. (for our kids have to do = museums)  This also helps with #1.
  3. Find tasks that fit talents – Everyone has something to contribute.  Older kids carry more.  Planners do research and put shopping lists together.  Everyone helps pack and unpack.  The youngest makes people laugh.  Everyone having a role ensures everyone is working together.
  4. Accept imperfection – Even the greatest leader will have an If I have to stop this car! moment.  Don’t let it define the event.  Followers acknowledge it and leaders apologize for it.  Both work to get beyond it.
  5. Create quiet time for engagement – Emails, texting, and all the other distractions are ways to escape.  Turn things off and focus on being together.  It changes things for the better.

There are probably a few more, but every like every vacation – every blog must have an end.

Want to practice leading a team this summer.  How about leading a vacation differently.

4 Habits to Build, 1 Initiative to Avoid (#Retention)

In organizations, initiaves around people and talent happen because we allow good habits to go away.  Keep the key habits and you avoid most initiatives.  Let me give an example:

I am hearing lots about the latest Initiative —>  EMPLOYEE RETENTION

Big initiative: Employee Engagement

Great focus, but did anyone ever ask Why are we refocusing on this? Layoffs?  Maybe.  But let me offer you another perspective.

Have any of these HABITS left your organization in the last few years?

  1. Performance evaluations (if we can’t give raises why do them?)
  2. One on ones with staff (too busy?)
  3. Monthly check-ins with your most valuable people – how are they doing? what do they need? what do they want to be doing next year? (they know they are valuable – they still have a job don’t they?)
  4. Development plans for people – investing time in their areas of interest and preparing them for the future. (we cannot afford development right now

One more conversation that has stuck with me.  A CEO shared that they cannot afford leadership development right now, but it is in the list for next year.  Sounds like a great initiative.  

Of course there are some free habits laying around . .

A few more blogs around this:

People are not like plants – how to treat them like people

Plants are not People

I am reminded this time of year of a basic truth in most of us – we like to put our energy into fixing things. I have a vegetable garden, and 5 weeks ago I put seeds into pots and started to grow them indoors. Each morning I look at the progress represented by 22 little pots and only about 5 showing signs of life. Yes, I am not a very good gardener. I only wish the bare pots would tell me what they need.

How does this relate to leadership? Often I go into organizations with the goal of helping a leader look at their team, have a conversation around team potential vs business strategy, help the team members think about their own development needs to meet the strategy, and then leave them with action items/goals to help them successfully hit the targets in the plan. In every team are people that are not growing. Leaders tend to worry about these people and put some direct energy (talking) and lots of indirect energy(worry, frustration) into fixing them.

The traditional solution? Gallup once made the statement “Put most of your energy into your best people”, which also can sound like the GE mantra of ‘cut your bottom 10%”. These statements sell books but implementing is risky and hard for leaders, people, and cultures.

The reality . . . .

Plants are not like people. Plants cannot tell you what they need more of to grow.

People are not plants, they can tell you what they need to be successful if they trust you AND if you ask.

 

The solution . . .

What if in your one on one conversations and performance conversations you asked?  Recently I helped a leader of a small organization implement a performance evaluation that focused on asking – and I call that a performance conversation. He was amazed at what he heard from his people.

People are not like plants, so lets stop treating them like plants . . . . and to some people, stop acting like a plant and blaming the gardener.

Developing People = Crockpot Cooking, not a microwave

I once stood in front of a group of nursing leaders and thetopic was developing people.  In order to help them better understand what it took to develop people I used the analogy of a crockpot vs a microwave.  One of the challenges in a healthcare is the strength of the organization / culture of the organization is focused on managing emergencies.  Hospitals are at their best when the situation is most difficult – which we should all be thankful for.

Developing people is not an ’emergency item’ or like cooking in a microwave, it is more like a crockpot.  Put in the key ingredients, make sure the temperature is right, then walk away.  You might check how things are cooking a few times, but once you start the process your main concern is whether the power is still on.

Why do leaders struggle with a consistent focus on developing people?  I would offer one simple explanation – most leaders are wired to drive for immediate results and overcome anything that gets in their way.  What a gift!  Developing people is about starting the ‘cooking’ by sitting down and listening to where the person is with their role, helping to paint a picture of a future level of performance that is the goal, assisting in defining some key actions that can be taken, and then delegating ownership to the person for their plan with the promise to circle back with them quarterly to ‘check to see if the power is still on’.

Questions for leaders?

  • Does you approach to development look more like a microwave or a crock pot?
  • What % of the people working for you have development plans?
  • How often do you sit down with your people to spend time on their development?

Resilience – What we can learn from the military

Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. George W. Cas...
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Do any of us in the private sector experience any more stress than a soldier in battle?  We all know the answer.  No.  Which is why it is worth taking 300 words to explore an effort to help soldiers build their resilience.

Resilience is the word of the year for the discussion around assisting people to manage through a stressful business environment.  I found a great clinical discussion in the Harvard Business Review around resilience (link).  I like clinical approaches to topics because they provide great information about what works, what doesn’t, and an outline of the critical steps/pieces of a solution.  They learn and I apply.

Here are the key pieces of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program.

  1. Test for psychological fitness – Identify strengths in four areas:  emotional, family, social, and spiritual fitness.  All four have been found to reduce depression and anxiety.
  2. Learning – A mandatory course on post-traumatic growth and optional on-line classes on the four fitness areas.  Mandatory class covers five areas: Understanding a normal response to trauma, learning techniques for controlling intrusive thoughts/images, how to talk about it, see the trauma as a fork in the road, and transforming the trauma into new/reinforced principles of life.
  3. Train key leaders – Called Master Resiliency Training (MRT), the goal is to teach them how to embrace resilience and pass on the knowledge.  This last piece focuses on:  Building mental toughness, Building on our signature strengths, and Building relationships. 

I am not sure where this study will go, but when 900,000 people go through something and someone is measuring the outcomes and sharing the learning it should have a lasting benefit.

How can we apply this today? What do you see from their approach that reinforces how you lead today?  How you coach or mentor?  How you can create your own CSF program? How does your own awarness of self make you more resilient?  or less . . . . .

On a side note: I am glad someone is looking out for the health of our soldiers.