3 Tips for Doing Leadership Development Better Than Your Competitors

I was with a leadership team of a high growth/dynamic company yesterday. One target they put on their Rock list was developing their future leaders. They inherently understand a couple of things:  *Rock = high priority/commitment item from my strategic planning process

  1. Developing future leaders means intentionally devoting effort to it.
  2. A constraint to doing this well IS NOT money. Time and/or focus are their real constraints.
  3. As an Inc 5000 company – their company is their best classroom.

I have done a past trUTips on this very topic.  It is actually a very simple process, and yet not that easy because there is so much you can do with it.  While this trUTips is a recipe to structure a great program, there are some details that will differentiate you. Here are three additional tips to making it great:

  1. Focus on selection(with executive team) – Use your values and three conversations with your leadership team to select the right people.
    • First conversation:  What are the criteria we will use to select our leaders?  (Focus more on attitude than aptitude)
    • Second conversation:  Finalize criteria and take first pass at the people who stand out.  At the end ask questions like:  How can we make this group more diverse?  What questions do I still have about each person that I need to work on finding an answer to before I can cast my vote?
    • Third conversation:  Vote for the final candidates.  Pick a threshhold for the number and create a list of why we picked you for each person.
  2.  Make the first phase a 12 month commitment, and begin by asking each person if they would be interested (share list from Step 1-Third Conversation).
  3. Make the first step a learning about myself (assessment based) and learning about what will be asked of me as part of the program. (there is an opt out option at the end of this step with no negative impact.

In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin says:

Telling people leadership is important is one thing.  Showing them step by step precisely how to be a leader is impossible.

He goes on to say:

The alternative is to draw a map and lead.

Make sure your leadership development effort puts people to work on real problems(and make real mistakes), gives them feedback and support, and challenges them to always be learning.

It is that simple – so make it a Rock and get started.

 

Entrepreneurial Leadership – My presentation & Two things I learned

This week I spoke to a group of entrepreneurs at Start Garden, an incubator in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  After receiving support from a program called Fast Track to start my own business, I pledged to us my Google-time (10% of my time) to connect with programs that help others start their own businesses and/or allow me to hang out with great people.  Start Garden meets both criteria.  Here are two things I learned from my workshop:

1. To get feedback, you have to ask for it: In dozens of appearances, I have found it very hard to get constructive feedback.  For this presentation I took my teenage daughter and told her ahead of time that I would like some feedback about what improvements I could make.  When I asked her after I was done she shared “Dad, at the end your closing kind of dragged.  People want to get going, and you could have kept the pace moving a little better as you went around the room for your closing.”    She was right, and next time I will be better because she cared enough to share.  The best way to get feedback is to ask for it before you start.

2.  Entrepreneurs love to learn: We were talking about leadership, and had some very frank discussions about barriers to leading well, but we never got stuck in what facilitators call a ‘negative spiral’.   We acknowledged what made it hard to lead, but quickly moved past it to what they could do to be better leaders.  It is what I try to do as a facilitator, but I know that when it is easy – the groups gets part of the credit.  Entrepreneurs see the opportunities in anything, which is why it is fun to hang around them.

 

Here is a copy of my presentation if you are interested.  It was themed around a John Wayne movie that I loved.

My question:  If you had to share one thing with a group of entrepreneurs about leadership, what would it be?

Rule #1: Sleep

A friend who has never read a business book recommended Rework by the founders of 37signals.  It has made my top shelf and there is one message that helped preserve my sanity during the start-up of my business.  When you are tired, sleep.

Seems simple, but in our drive to complete everything and show any customer in the world that comes in contact with us what an amazing performer we are, the bar gets raised to a point that most of them cannot even see or appreciate.  For me, I was so focused on getting it all done that I forgot I was skilled at my craft and that many of these tasks took a third of the time if I was rested.  So since then I have just gone to bed, and here are a few outcomes for those who need data:

  • 0 missed deliverables
  • 0 feedback from clients indicating I was unprepared
  • 0 feedback from anyone that I appear more rested

The benefit was that it also allowed me to hone in on my new rule that when the house shuts down and my spouse goes to bed, I put everything down and go to bed.  A simple rule, but it has made all the difference.  Nobody else will care that you slept, except the people that have to live with you.  Doesn’t that matter?  It should . . .

Holidays is about being present and putting things down that can be handled later.  It should not take a book or a blog to tell us go to sleep, but sometimes these messages need to be spelled out and we need to be in a place to hear them.

My message for you:  Thanks for listening and sharing your stories with me.  I will not bother you until Jan 7, so stay present with the people that matter in your life.

Have a great holiday.

Rule 3 – NEVER cancel without rescheduling

Enough said?  You can stop here if you get it.  If you need more convincing here are 451 more words to get some clarity.

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey said We judge ourselves based on our intentions.  We judge others based on their actions. Never is that statement more true than in the relationship between a leader and follower.  Do any of these examples ring true?

1.  A leader cancels a one on one because of a customer issue.  Does not reschedule it because he/she just talked to the person as they walked around the office yesterday.

Leader intention:  Customer is critical and everything stops when they call.  Plus we just talked yesterday and you know I care about you.

Leader action (as interpreted by follower):  Here we go again.  Your issues always trump mine and this issue could have been handled by the field service team with just a little support from us.  This is the 6th time this has happened in the last 8.5678 months (slight exaggeration on the number – but do not be surprised at the human mind to keep a key measure like this).

2.  A leader has the one on one and interrupts the conversation three times because of calls from home.

Leader intention:  Apology issued before each call, and since it was his wife on all three occasions and it was an emergency it was okay because family comes first.  Family is a core value of our organization.  (Emergency = at the mechanic with their new Audi A8 and the repairs were not going well)

Leader action (as interpreted by follower):  Would it be okay if I did this?  His/her spouse is a great person, but can’t this wait 20 minutes?  Isn’t this my time?  I will just cut my time/agenda short and let them deal with their issues.  Afterthought – A8?  I wonder why my evaluation/increase is six months overdue?

3.  Leader leads the time with two things that went wrong last week and they want to know what happened and why.

Leader intention:  Accountability.  If we cannot have the hard conversations then I am not doing my job.

Leader action (as interpreted by follower):  What a jelly fish.  There have been four days to talk about these things since they happened, plus I owned them and fixed them.  What about the bad decision he/she made yesterday that kept me here until 8pm to fix?  Can there be accountability there?

Being a leader is tough.  It is tougher when priorities are not clear and the tyranny of the urgent rules over the one on one time.  Never break this rule – and if you do point back to the last date/time/location/reason that it happened so they know you are keeping score too. 🙂

Talent management is about great conversations.  Follow these three rules for one on ones and you can have some great conversations.

Links related to this post:

Time – What does your graph look like?

When I saw the graph above(from a Seth Godin blog – here is the link) I immediately thought about my business.  How do I spend my time?  Which pieces should I spend more time on?

Several years ago I created a leadership development program to help prepare leaders to launch sales offices in other states.  As part of the program, each leader was to receive a 360 evaluation nine months after the launch.  I did this mainly because I had a feeling that bad habits were going to develop during launch because there was so much to do and resources were scarce.  When the first 360 came back – what was the message?  Time.  Spending too much on little things and not enough focused on big things (growing sales, etc.).  Even great leaders get sucked into the little things.

Are you always out of time?  Try this – spend 2-3 days tracking your time, then spend 15 minutes reviewing your results by answering three questions:

  1. What are the priorities for our business / my team?
  2. How much time am I spending on those priorities?
  3. What one change could I make to become more focused on those priorities?

Our time is something WE all control.

What are some things you have done in the past to take control of your time?

Assessments: 4 Traps and 1 Truth

This is a series of extra discussions around an upcoming trU Tips related to using assessments in your business.  It will come out next week.  If you are interested in receiving this special trU Tips, please sign up for the mailing list here.

I am a big fan of using assessments (personality profiles like DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Birkman Method, etc.)  in business.  In working in and around dozens of start-ups/growth organizations, I see the pace and amount of work hindering the time needed to really get to know someone through a selection process.  Assessments do not replace that time, but help to start meaningful conversations around cultural fit, manageability, and onboarding that will be valuable.

There is the trap of being sold a solution vs making a good buying decision based on your situation and resources, so here are some things I have learned about the use of assessments in business.

Trap 1:  It will fix your selection issues: By nature, leaders want things fixed yesterday.  The biggest fix you can apply to your selection process is time and purposeful discussion to make sure you are getting the right person and actually leading the process as the hiring manager.  Assessments, used consistently for a period of time (6 months) will start to help, but it is not a quick fix.  It is an expensive band aid for a leader being too busy to talk to new people.

Trap 2:  Eventually you can do it yourself and you will not need me: True about 10% of the time.  For a very simple tool like DiSC yes, but plan on paying training $ every 1-2 years as your expert moves to other roles or gets busy.  Remember that to become an expert it takes 30+ assessments and doing them regularly (5-10 a month).  Much of the ‘expertise’ is also built from watching people work over a 1-2 year period after taking the assessment.  Some tools are so complex that it probably takes longer/more frequent work to be an expert.

Trap 3:  Ours is the best: It is important to believe that to sell things, and you will hear lots of great reasons to buy any tool.  In trU Tips #18 I will address ways to be a great buyer vs being sold on a solution that does not work.  If you are feeling the pain of a weak selection process, it is easy to buy the confidence of a good salesperson.

Trap 4:  You can also use it to help teams, leaders in transition, and other high risk/value (ROI) situations: Kind of true, but see Trap 2.  To make any action plan stick, will take outside coaching/consulting for 3-6 months after any session.  Probably worth it for leadership groups, but those costs should be part of the ROI discussion from the beginning.  The second mini-trap is thinking the HR leader can be this person.  They are too busy, too close to these people, and often not wired for this kind of work.

Truth:  It is better than nothing: This will not be part of a sales pitch, and since Brad Smart in his book Topgrading put the cost of a bad leadership hire at 14.6x annual earnings, making one better choice will probably help.  This will likely not appear in the sales presentation you receive (Imagine the tag line:  Your hiring process will suck less if you use this assessment 🙂 ), but it is the truth.

Do you have any other traps or tips to add based on your experience?

They asked: Hi Po selection, Hiring the right people, Succession Planning

For my blog readers – this is a second post inspired by questions received from HR leaders that I talked with yesterday.  It was great to see a packed lunch meeting with 100 busy HR leaders taking time to talk and go through my Talent Scorecard.  Great questions, and I was happy to get my development plan template in the hands of so many HR leaders who can hopefully use it to impact their people.  

I will start back with more normal posts next week – 150 to 300 words.  Also, I apologize for any spelling /grammar issues.  I work hard to scrub a normal post, but at 1000 words the editing to perfection is not a battle I will fight.  Remember that trUe conversations are not always done in perfect english. 🙂

How do you effectively identify high potential employees based on data rather than who the manager likes?

I am guessing this comes from a negative experience trying to convince a group of leaders that they were wrong. 🙂  First of all, HR has to argue enough with business leaders about things like compensation that do not make this conversation an argument, but make it a collaboration.  Here are a few tips to make it happen.

  • Start the process with this question:  What do we look for in a successful leader here? (Hi Pots by definition are people destined for a significant leadership role – 2 moves up in a larger organization).  Take the list and prioritize it to a top 5 critieria.
  • Insert into the conversation the definition of learning agility from the book The Leadership Machine (by Lominger).  Use that description to help the group make sure the pieces of that definition are captured in your criteria.  (I am assuming you are using a 9 box of some sort somewhere in your process)
  • Make sure there is a section called Accomplishments as part of the Talent Profile you are creating for each candidate.
  • Have the discussion and air disagreements and capture(write it down) any concerns or questions people have about this person.
  • Action Plans / Next Steps should include having leaders questioning the inclusion find an opportunity to work more closely with this person and for the leader supporting them to find ways to showcase this person’s skills in projects, presentations, etc.

I have a post talking about how developing people is like cooking in a crockpot.  Here is the link.  Do not try and microwave this process and feel like ALL the answers have to be clear at the end of the process. 

Other than personal referrals, what have you found to be the most effective way(s) of determining those who will end up being high quality employees?

This is a big one, and there are endless vendors out there ready to sell you their silver bullet solution to this problem.  My favorite solution is outlined in TopGrading, but know that it is not an easy implementation.  It will be a live long skill(that will be marketable and useful) once you master it.  I have worked/networked with lots of startup/early growth companies and here are a few tips based on what they say made a difference and a few hints from me.

  • Divide interviewing into Skills/Experience to do the job and cultural fit for your organization.  Spend some time defining your culture (values, beliefs, mission) and be purposeful about evaluating people based on that.
  • Find ways to work with people first – via contracts, projects, including a ride along with someone as part of an interview, or maybe even giving them a real problem to solve during an interview.  Too many people think interviewing starts with the posting on monster or has to be confined to questions in a room. 
  • Do a 30 day, 90 day, and 6 month review of hires to determine “Good Choice?  Bad Choice? What did we learn?  How do we apply the learning?”  Over time this will make your process better.
  • In hiring decisions center the discussion around answering three questions:  Are the willing?  Are they able?  Are the manageable?
  • Give it time.  If you only have 30 minutes to interview a hire you will likely get a 30 minute hire.  If that is good enough for the leader then move on to a manager/leader who cares.  (sorry that was a bit blunt, but there is no other way to say it.)

If we are not able to have a formal succession planning system can you please provide some other ways and/or tools that we can informally work through this with leaders we support within our organization?  Thank you!

I left the Thank you in your question because I wondered if it would still be there after I gave my answer.  🙂  My answer is No, not yet.  I say this because Succession Planning is such a big topic and really the culmination of doing the basics of Talent Management well that if it is too hard, the reasons are you are not doing the basics well and the relationships within the leadership team are probably not trusting enough to make it work anyway.  The number one barrier to this happening well at the leadership level is ego.

I do have a couple of bits of advice that hit me as I talked with the 100+ HR leaders yesterday.  Stop calling it succession planning and use the terms Most Valuable People and Most Critical Roles to identify your efforts.  I did that in my Talent Scorecard because I wanted to communicate it in more ‘non HR’ language.  Leaders might balk at the ‘valuable’ or ‘critical’ labels because they will exclude people.  This process is meant to focus scarce resources (time, money) on the most critical areas(roles) and most valuable resources(best people) in the business.  I guess the question is whether the leader proposes spending a little bit on everyone?  Another thought is “Do we want our talent management efforts to resemble socialism or capitalism?  On second thought, better hold that one back unless you want a real ideological argument.  🙂  I commit to trU Tips #18 to focus on that, so sign-up for trU Tips  and I commit to addressing this for you and others that are asking the same questions. 

In the meantime, the basics I reference are already out there on my resource page.  Check it out.

If you want clarification on any of this feel free to post a question on this blog and I will gladly do my best to answer it.

The Resilience Formula – for Leaders . . . for Followers

I grew up in a community of scientists. I went to school with lots of engineers.  While science is not my passion, connecting the dots for people by finding a way to simplify big things is how my brain is wired.  I see a need to understand what stress looks like for leaders in transition, people trying to self-manage through over promised and under resourced projects, individuals starting a new company, and a host of other situations.  More than understand, a key life skill is to figure out how to get unstuck and moving forward.  This is resilience.

Through personal trials, coaching, walking with friends, leading, and a host of other experiences I’ve settled on an equation I use to represent resilience.  

Hope > Fear + Anger + Despair + Frustration + Worry + Hunger + Mistrust + (Fill in the blank)

When the > (greater than)sign switches and the right side takes over our personality changes.  Is it normal for the equation to change on occasion?  Yes.  That’s life.  Is it healthy to let the right side dominate too long?  No. 

This has been talked about before.  In Good to Great Jim Collins talked about the Stockdale Paradox.  Admiral James Stockdale’s(a prisoner of war) presented the survival method of acknowlodging the brutal facts of a situation but never losing faith that he would prevail.  This is resilience.  

As leaders, we need to take care of ourselves.  Exercise.  Prayer.  Vacations.  Healthy Diet.  Reading.  Naps.  All of the above. 

Remember that your resilience will rub off on your organization.  When you are leading from the right side your stress behaviors come out and your ability to react/flex your leadership style to manage others goes away.  The Birkman Method assessment identifies these as stress behaviors.  When we name them, we have a chance to manage them.

In a slow economic recovery, resilience becomes as important as cash.

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Leadership: 3 Keys To Building Culture

The  June 2011 issue of Inc. magazine recognizes top small company workplaces.  It is a great article for people thinking about culture and the start-up of new companies.  Here is the link.

Here are some thoughts that all leaders can take away.

Cultures are:

  1. Intentional:  Defining and writing down what you want to create is a must step.  Some start with what they want to avoid based on experiences at other organizations.  Whatever the start, in the end someone writes something down and uses that as the guide.
  2. Exclusive:  One example is how a company called TRX has a core value of Fitness.  People are encouraged and expected to workout. (coincidentally they company markets fitness products)  It would be difficult to fit into this organization unless you had a passion for exercise.  Values define who you are and will exclude people who do not share the same passions.
  3. Ideas backed by action:  All of the examples have established norms, interviewing techniques, goal setting in evaluations, or standard practices that promote a value.  The values/beliefs have come off the wall/out of the head of the entrepreneur and become an observable action that people see.  Spandex is often seen on employees at TRX as the go to or return from a workout.  An example of an acceptable norm and practice.

There is lots to worry about in a start-up.  Cash flow. Sales.  Product quality.  Hiring.  In my dealings with leaders 5-10 years after a start-up I have often heard the comment “I want work to be fun again.”  Part of fun is enjoying/participating in a culture you created. 

This is great lesson for any leader.

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Level 5 Followership – #TED style

TED Followership Video

I just watched a video from TED that made me think of what I have called a Level 5 Follower, which is an Influencer.  My definition of an Influencer is someone who works to alter strategies or activities that will have a big impact on the organization.  Measures their contribution by the things started and the opportunities to do more.

This video makes me think of the Influencer.  They don’t necessarily always think of the big ideas, but know a good idea when they see it and jump on board with their heart and soul as if it was their own.  Watch the video – – – think a little – – – and probably laugh a lot. 🙂

5 Levels of Followership

Great Followership is a choice – Why it matters