Lessons in Leadership – Learning delegation from a child

Last night my youngest daughter delivered these faithful words at 2am – “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”  I turned on the light and asked her “Tell me about the hurt?”  Her response was pretty simple “I think I am going to get sick.  I need to go to the bathroom.”  My response “Go ahead.”  I will spare you the details of the next 20 minutes, but I judge the endings of these things based on how much work I end up having to do.  In this case, I was just needed for comfort.  Whew.

As I think about that event today, I realized that my daughter is growing up.  She got up when she felt bad, came to tell me, and with very little help from me other than a slight nudge, she took care of herself.  We have raised a child that is showing signs of maturity and independence.  It feels good.

One of the big challenges of leaders is growing individuals and teams that show that kind of independence.  I have always been struck by all the different ways people have created to measure the effectiveness of a leader.   Too often we depend on a test or a psychologist to measure how well individuals and teams are developing into independent thinkers. 

Here is a simple one to measure how independent your team is today.  Take a piece of paper and every time someone on your team comes to you with a need for help today make a mark.  If they bring the answer or you are able to get them to provide their own answer, circle that mark.   At the end of the day what does the sheet say about your leadership style and their ability to solve their own problems?

Your development plan – more marks with circles tomorrow because you ask what they think the answer is more often. 

When they leave with their own answer, you are becoming a developer of people . . and a leader.  Trust me, it will feel good.

Developing Resilience – 4 Ways to Process Pain

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The top three most stressful events in life are:

  1. Death
  2. Divorce
  3. Job Loss

Right Management, an outplacement company and division of Manpower tells those experiencing #3 to do three things right away:

  1. Exercise
  2. Get a schedule
  3. Journal

When I share this with people trying to process a career shift or a plan #3 often stands out and evokes the question “Why?”.  The reason -pain needs to be processed to add to the tools/weapons that build resilience for future events.  Are you dealing with some event below the top 3 above.  Here are other ways to process pain/challenge:

  1. Executive coaching – A safe place to process, reset, and plan to move past it.
  2. Peer network – Few things are more comforting than knowing you are not alone in your challenges.  ALL managers and above NEED to develop this for themselves.  Don’t wait for your employer or HR team to do it for you.
  3. Read how others have done it – Like #2, finding a person with a good perspective can be comforting and will help you process things.
  4. Spouse/Best Friend – Having a ‘here is where I am’ discussion with someone who cares for and understands you is priceless.

Being alone with a challenge is not a good place to stay.  Go find a friend.

Get a Valentine’s Day Win

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Each year billions of dollars are spent improving performance of individuals and teams at work.  It is important for everyone to learn and grow, and the pressure to perform is higher now than at any point in the last 20 years.

On Monday it is Valentine’s Day in America, so the performance pressure increases ten fold for anyone who is in a relationship.

Let me rescue you.  Especially you men.  My only caveat is that this advice is coming from someone who gave an amazing set of knives and a classic cookbook to his wife (then girlfriend) for their first Christmas. 

Just finished a book set by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn – One for men to better understand how women think (For Men Only) and one for women to better understand how men think (For Women Only).  Easy to read, <200 pages, entertaining, and amazingly accurate.  A worthwhile read and it will start some great conversations.  Include an IOU for a dinner/date night to talk about what you read and you are home free.

I just used those knives and cookbook tonight.  Why after 20 years am I still not vindicated? 🙂 

Development and growth is not just for work.

Communication – Always room for improvement. Right?

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I keep wondering when I will get over the hump and never have to worry about my communication skills.  I thought I had kids figured out, then I had a teenager.  I thought I had marriage nailed down, then I started my business and my wife started working.  I am ready to admit that maybe I just need to keep working at it.

What about you?  Is there a person, a situation, or maybe a group that just has you scratching your head?  Here are a few resources that are staples in my library.

Communicating (listening) to yourself:

  • Career?  Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
  • Job loss or another traumatic event?  Journal – It builds personal resilience by processing your experiences for the day/week.

Communication with spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend:  2 book series by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn – For Women Only and For Men Only

Communicating in Conflict: Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

I am convinced that every year a standard part of any development plan should be one item around communicating more effectively with a certain person, group, or in a particular situation.  Imagine if we made a 5% improvement in this every year?

What resources for certain situations have you found helpful?  Please share your thoughts . . . .

Resilience – The discussion starts(and continues) with transparency

I have had several opportunities to lead and participate in group discussions at retreat weekends.  When I listen to people share at the end of the weekend the message of I was encouraged to hear that I was not the only one struggling with ___________always appearsPeople find comfort in knowing that what they are feeling is common to others.  All too often leaders are told or tell themselves they have to act more like a superhero than a person.  While it is true that leaders should not run around like Chicken Little every time something unexpected happens (people do look to leaders for inspiration in the form of strength), that is not the transparency that I am talking about.  Transparency is about admitting we are surprised or stressed, and then getting back to the work of dealing with whatever knocked us off-balance.

Resilience is not about not being rattled, it is about how quickly we recover.  Someone I look to as a great voice in this is Doug Silsbee.  Doug tells the story of a martial arts master who was once asked why he never seemed to be knocked off-balance.  The master replied that he was constantly being knocked off-balance, but he had learned through practice to return to center very quickly.  For the master who looked impenetrable, being transparent was about being honest when asked.  Imagine the impact on those who came to him to learn?  The students left that day recognizing the importance of practice in their own quest for mastery.

With an economic world that is so interconnected, there will constantly be events that surprise us/our businesses and knock us off-balance.  Learning to absorb those blows and get back to center is a skill that people/leaders at all levels need.  This path to resiliency starts by being willing to admit that, no matter what people see, we get shaken like everyone else.

Is Resilience The Right Message? Three things to consider before starting this discussion in your organization

Many years ago a friend shared this story.  At the birth of their first child they reached a point where the doctor asked them if they wanted an epidural.  They had discussed it during birthing classes and decided to go through the delivery process without it because it was not covered by insurance.  Several hours of real labor had changed his wife’s thinking on the matter and she wanted it.  My friend, still being a rookie at marriage and childbirth, decided to coach his wife through the final stages of childbirth by offering the advice “Suck it up honey”.   I will stop the story here, but will share that they ended up getting the epidural.

Coming back from the recent economic downturn will take resilience from everyone.  How often does the message of resilience sound like the response of the father above when being delivered from others.  This is emerging as one of the hot topics in 2011 as companies grow with limited hiring and budgets.  Here are three key things to remember when tackling this topic:

1. What it means?  In the January 2011 edition of HR Magazine author William Atkinson provides a nice summary of the topic. (link to article)  A key point is this is not a new topic, but the current conditions in the workforce make this critical because the pressure caused by increasing expectations for performance versus the unprecedented push for efficiency.  People have more to do and fewer resources.  In his article, Atkinson refers to a survey that found 75% of people saying they were stressed to unhealthy levels.  The take away is that we need to equip our people to cope with this new reality.

How we should talk about it?  The topic goes beyond the wellness discussion, although how we take care of ourselves is important.  To start, the message has to focus on the reality that all levels of the organization are facing this challenge.  It has been said, but has it been said from the standpoint of “We feel we are doing what we have to do for this business to be successful.  Yet we know that it is stressing people beyond what is healthy.”  Next, focus on open and honest discussions about what stresses each person out, what we can do to relieve the stress, and what can be done to lesson it (both by the leader and the employee).  If there is going to be training, it needs to first focus on equipping the leaders to have these conversations with their teams and provide ongoing support.

Who we should be listening to?  A standard piece of every management library is a stress management book.  If it is not there go buy one.  Jim Loehr is an author that has been around this topic for a while using the analogy of creating a corporate athlete.  Another voice that I like to listen to is Doug Silsbee.  He has placed a few videos that outline his thoughts on the topic that will provide a perspective on how resilience can help and provided some basic stress management techniques.  Here is a link to the videos.

Back to my initial story.  Was my friend purposefully trying to be insensitive to his wife?  No.  They are still married and that baby son is now off to college.  But when stress hits sometimes the words out of our mouth don’t accurately reflect what we are thinking/feeling.  For leaders, just make sure the words out of your mouth take the discussion in a healthy direction, not to a place where people interpret the message as “deal with it”.  This is a topic we should all be talking about.

Is Failure The End?

I went to a class sponsored by our local chamber of commerce this week.  The presenter was terrible and it was two hours of wasted content.  The benefit was that it got me thinking about when we fail, what it means, and what it should mean.

A mentor of mine, Doug Silsbee, once shared the observation that “We have to shift from a success/failure belief system.”  As a startup, I have that posted on a piece of paper on my desk to give me some perspective on viewing good and bad days.  I am not to the point where I want to ban the word because it has power.  It has the power to be positive if we do things with it.  Here are three ways failure can be a building block: 

  1. If it means the beginning of something – In Parker Palmer’s classic book  Let Your Life Speak he shares some wisdom from a Quaker elder.  She said “A lot of way(doors) has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.”  Failure should be a guide on a journey, not an end.  The ability to see it and process it this way does take some strength and maturity, but it will make a huge difference on your journey.
  2. It is only part of what defines us – When I talk to groups around career choices and job searches one of the main themes I use is ‘Your Story’, and that any resume, LinkedIn profile, or references should tell our story.  Part of our story are failures in jobs, projects, and degrees.  When I hire I want to hear them and hear how the person has processed them.  It is that part of our story that helps us either not repeat past mistakes or handle the same situation differently to produce a different outcome.
  3. We learn empathy –  Let’s face it, to walk off the stage after a poor presentation, get escorted out of our workplace, or fly home from a failed selling presentation it hurts.  But once we experience it we understand what it feels like and what kinds of darker choices enter our mind when the memory is fresh.  By dark, I mean the emotions or things you want to do to lash out at those you view as responsible.  I will stop here.  If you have been here you know what I mean, and being familiar with this place allows us to guide others past it and on to better places.

The final thought is that failure often needs a friend.  Someone to come along side you, help identify the event for what it was, and help put some positive energy into the event that will allow you to move along.  Gallup did a study that identified the positive outcomes of having 3 friends at work.  Buried in the reasons is the benefit of having someone familiar with you that can help process these moments.  It is not the only reason for building relationships at work, but it is a significant one. 

I hope the presenter makes our time together the beginning of something better.

Self-Awareness 101: Why it matters and 5 questions to get started

A few days ago my 8-year-old daughter shared an observation.  She said “Daddy, when you come on field trips my teacher always gives you the new kids for our group.  You like to meet new people.”  Her comments made me step back because she sees that about me as does her teacher, who I have known for nine years.  I thought about what she saw, and she was right.  It pains me to see someone standing away from a group of people looking alone and lost.  I like to find those people, connect with them, and get them connected.  In my professional life, nothing irritates me more than seeing a poor onboarding program at a company or no resources put towards helping new leaders or teams be successful. 

Moments like this happen every day, but too often we let them pass by.  As our jobs and leaders change more frequently, understanding who we are and what we need to be successful and happy is important.  In fact, it is more than just important, it is critical. 

So here are the five sets of questions that make up Self-Awareness 101.  Being able to answer these will help you build a base of knowledge to use when being approached for a tough project or a new job assignment.

  • What do I do extremely well?  What are my talents?
  • What am I passionate about?  What gets me excited?
  • What do I need from my job?  What rewards mean the most to me?
  • What are the realities in my life right now?
  • What demotivates me?

In his book Mastery, George Leonard teaches us that mastery is a journey, not a destination.  Mastery of ourselves (ie. Self-Awareness) starts with commiting to understand ourselves and seek answers to these five questions, even if the answers come from an eight year old.  Enjoy the journey.

The Career Question No One Asks – and 5 Questions All Leaders Should Answer

A couple of times a year I do a keynote address to high school students for something Junior Achievement calls a reverse job shadow.  This is a day where people come to the school to talk about their careers.  One question I always ask the students is:

  • Did any of the presenters share a mistake they made during their career journey? 

The answer is always no – which is a shame.  We get the students into a room to help them consider career choices, and we don’t take the time to tell them mistakes are part of the journey.  Like any journey, career journeys are not defined by the mistakes, but by our response to those mistakes.   They should know that, and we all need to remember that.

Next time you have a chance to tell your story, make sure you include the answers to these questions:

  • What careers/degrees/jobs did you have before you found this one?
  • What is one thing you wish someone had told you before you started?
  • What is the biggest mistake you ever made and what did it teach you?
  • What part of your job is more fun than hard?
  • What part of your job is more hard than fun?

If you are a leader, what would be the impact of sharing this information with your people? 

Remember . . . Vulnerable <> Weak.