Leaders – Are you avoiding the hard stuff?

Leaders – Are you avoiding the hard stuff?

A key barrier to being a People-Centered Leader is avoiding the hard stuff.

Recent data from my four-week People-Centered Leadership journey indicates we love to watch YouTube videos and download forms that might help us, but when we are asked to share information about ourselves with a team member using the Team Member Fact Sheet™, we skip that part – 100% of the time.

My intent in offering this People-Centered Leadership journey was to help people practice the habits that are foundational behaviors of People-Centered Leaders. The barriers to those key habits are familiar, and yet I have witnessed leaders that – with a little support – break through the barriers that go up when we interact differently with our people.

Here are a couple of quotes I will remember forever:

  1. “When I started asking them questions about themselves, they asked me – Why are you asking me this? The tone clearly communicated they were skeptical of my motives. I realized that as a leader I never get to know my people, so they are surprised when I show interest. It is going to take me some time to fix it, and I am committed to fixing it.”
  2. “We work right next to each other and have been doing it for five years, and yet some of the most basic information about them I do not know. Once I got past that initial feeling of shame, I was able to start the conversation. It was a great conversation.”

As the year end approaches, it’s a great time to focus on connecting with the people around you.

I think we can have some fun with this, so watch this space for more details about the People-Centered Leadership Challenge. It will be a chance to explore your own strengths, try some time-tested  techniques, and qualify to win some great prizes. More to come. If you want to learn more about People-Centered Leadership, here is an explanation.

People-Centered Leaders: Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

They’ll Love Your Questions – by my friend/mentor Mary Jo Asmus

They’ll Love Your Questions – by my friend/mentor Mary Jo Asmus

Today’s guest blogger is Mary Jo Asmus. Mary Jo is a friend and mentor, and I invited her to be part of this series because she is a highly skilled coach and has a gift for asking powerful questions. She has been a great influence on my own coaching approach and practice, and I am excited to connect you with her. For leaders committed to people-centered leadership, you need Mary Jo on the journey with you.

The following content is the property of Mary Jo Asmus and Aspire Collaborative Services LLC and is shared on this blog with her full approval. Any reproduction or use of this material without her consent is not lawful. If you like it and want to use it somewhere else, just ask her directly using the link at the bottom of the post.

They’ll love your questions

Someone who reports to you has a problem they want to solve, and they say they need your help solving it. A little bit of adrenaline kicks into your brain because you love to solve problems, and you can’t wait to hear more.

Stop and think deeply now. How will solving their problem help THEM over the long haul?

You might notice that the really smart and talented people who report to you don’t want your advice, even when they ask for it. How many times have you given your solutions and watched them walk away and actually use the recommendations you gave them? Ok, maybe they have, but they do so with little enthusiasm.

They really don’t want your advice. Even if they accept it, they do so begrudgingly. If they use it, they will use it reluctantly.

Do you really want those talented people who are brimming with oodles of untapped potential to go about their days doing what you tell them because you’re the boss (and they feel like they have to)?

Consider this: If you ask the right questions in the right way, they can figure out what they need to figure out for themselves. They’ll like their own solutions so much more than yours. Their creativity and intuition will kick in. They’ll become motivated. They’ll learn.

They’ll love your questions. If they are driven, smart, talented and want to learn, give them questions instead of solutions.

If you see the sense in this, you’ll need to exercise that question-asking part of your brain because you’ve been solving everyone’s problems all these years.

The way to start is to keep a few questions handy that seem to work to get people’s thinking juices started. Here are some you can start with.

To help them brainstorm solutions:

  • What will that look like when you’re done?
  • Where are you at with that right now?
  • What’s the gap between where you are at right now and where you want this to be?
  • How will you fill that gap?

To get them thinking about taking action:

  • What’s the first step you will take?
  • What’s your next step?
  • What are you willing to try?
  • What will keep you from doing that?
  • When can you start?
  • If you were courageous, what would you do?

To get them to commit:

  • What are you committing to over the next (hour, day, week, etc.)?
  • When can you do that?
  • What will keep you from doing that?
  • How can I help?
  • When should we assess your progress?

When they are really stuck:

  • What’s stopping you?
  • What does your (head or heart) tell you to do?
  • What assumptions are you making about that?

When they did what they said they’d do with great success:

  • What did you do well?
  • What surprised you about what you did?
  • What did you learn from that experience?
  • What’s your next step?

When you don’t have enough information to even ask a question:

  • Can you say more about that?

Try questions in place of problem solving and watch how smart and driven your employees (and you) become!

Did Mary Jo’s words resonate with you? Here is how you can continue to benefit from her wisdom on your leadership journey. Learn more about her executive coaching and leadership development services at www.aspire-cs.com and when you sign-up for her leadership blog/newsletter you receive a copy of her free ebook, Working with Your Executive Coach. Mary Jo is an award-winning blogger and a Professional Certified Coach.

Facilitating Commitment: 5 Words to Listen for and 2 Powerful Questions to Use

Facilitating Commitment: 5 Words to Listen for and 2 Powerful Questions to Use

We were at the end of an EOS® quarterly, and as we went around matching owners to each rock one leader was reluctant to take on a rock that seemed to align with her talents and accountabilities. As the team asked her to own the rock she reluctantly agreed by saying “If you want to assign me that rock, I guess I will take it.” I stopped the session and said – “the words assign and guess are not words that make me believe want to take on this rock.  Leadership of a rock takes commitment, so let’s spend some time talking this through before we move ahead.”

Powerful Question™ #1: What is making this rock an assignment for you?

Powerful Question™ #2: On a scale of 1(none) to 10(extremely strong) – what is your commitment to this rock? If you are at x, what would it take to get to an 8, 9, or 10? (note: The answer probably becomes a to do, because the answer is likely more thought or a chance to review it with their team)

As a facilitator, especially around goal setting, language is critical.  I listen for the words, and call the ones out that reveal feelings that indicate conditions are present that will get in the way of successful completion of the work. The key is to name the words and the assumptions I make around commitment, and allow space for people to confirm how they are feeling and get the team to talk about it.  My trigger words are:

  1. Kind of
  2. Assigned
  3. Have to
  4. Hope
  5. Try

hint: For the action oriented leaders their language will always be positive, so watch for body language with these leaders.

Great conversations start with a question, and the question I always ask is Do you commit to owning this rock?

Whether you are in a quarterly pulsing session, a leadership team meeting, or any other situation where actions have to be owned, develop the leadership skill of listening and calling out the language that tells you “we need to keep discussing this”.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

Two questions to assess mindset; One question to invite a shift

Two questions to assess mindset; One question to invite a shift

We were ending our day, and I used a tool from the Entrepreneurial Operating System® to get feedback about our time together and actions to improve it for the next group. The simple question was:

How would you rate our time together from 1 (not valuable) to 10 (extremely valuable)?

When we got to Eric, he said 7.5.  My follow-up question is standard, “Thanks for the feedback Eric. What could be done to make it an 8.5?” His response was quick, “I have been to a lot of these types of sessions and they can never be above a 7.5.”

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, author Carol Dweck shares her research that has identified fixed and growth mindsets. A fixed-mindset person is focused on looking good and proving their worth with effort. They excel at protecting and criticizing. A growth-mindset person is someone who sees potential as something that continues to be stretched and grown through challenges, learning through the difficult journey of delivering on a commitment. This person perceives a negative outcome as the first step to doing it better next time.

If you want to grow as an organization, fixed-mindset thinkers will be like an anchor to your ideas. It is a key leadership skill to accurately assess the mindset of your team. I use these two questions on the back of my team member fact sheet to help provide a glimpse into their mindset:

  1. What is the biggest behavioral change you ever made?
  2. What is the biggest mistake you have ever made and what did it teach you?

These are hard questions, but a growth-mindset person will appreciate the challenge. In my experience, a fixed-mindset person will either not answer or create a  diversion through sarcasm or anger/frustration to allow the question to move on without providing a thoughtful answer.

The next key leadership skill is inviting a shift (fixed-mindset) or increasing the wisdom within the team (growth-mindset). Here is the question to invite that shift and increase the team wisdom:

  1. What wisdom would you be willing to share from that experience to help all of us get a little wiser?

Fixed-mindset people focus on protecting and proving, which ends up making them largely inward focused in their work. It is especially important in EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) companies to limit or eliminate fixed-mindset thinkers. Traction requires a growth-mindset.

Do you have any on your team?

What is your mindset?

My final point is that fixed-mindset is not equal to bad/mean person. Eric and I had a great conversation after the day together because we shared some professional experiences, and I found him easy to talk with. But if I am charged with growing or improving an organization, it is critical to have people who get excited about continuously improving work and creating stretch goals. The teams will be more successful without the Eric’s of the world.

What questions would you ask?

Tip: Read trUTips #8 to read about how to handle B players (or in this case, a B-player)

Getting beyond the superficial as leaders: 2 Tips

Getting beyond the superficial as leaders: 2 Tips

Doug Fields, a blogger I follow, recently shared the statement, “Superficial relationships tend to focus on the obvious and inspire nothing new.” Recently a coachee shared some appreciation of our time together when he said, “It is nice to have a place where I can be myself and feel safe to share the things that are weighing on me.”

Leadership can be lonely. Leadership can also be a series of superficial relationships because we are busy, and going from meeting to meeting tends to keep us focused on the work while the relationships stay superficial. In leading and working with leaders, getting beyond the superficial requires the sharing of feelings. These cannot be seen as readily and are too often assumed or misinterpreted. Here are two techniques for doing this safely and effectively as a leader:

Tip #1: Getting beyond the superficial with others – One-on-one form

Great conversations start with a question. In my one-on-one form, I start and end with questions that invite people to share what is working and not working. The key to using this is to let people answer the questions they want and keep asking them so that, over time, people will get used to sharing what they are feeling. One leader confided that it took 3 months to get someone to start sharing their frustrations and giving the leader honest feedback about how the leader was making their job harder. For a deeper dive into this conversation, watch my JoHari Window video.

Tip #2: Getting beyond the superficial with ourselves – The Wheel of Life

This tool is designed for leaders to do some self-reflection on the balance in their own lives and what they can do to reset their priorities for areas that are important to them. Balance is a moving target, and doing this exercise and sharing it with someone else moves way beyond the superficial and into what really matters to us – and what is not working so well.

Superficial relationships tend to focus on the obvious and inspire nothing new. 

Make some opportunities to move beyond the superficial this week.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

Will you be my mentor? 4 Steps to make this effective.

Will you be my mentor? 4 Steps to make this effective.

I was talking to a group of graduate students and the question was asked, “What advice would you give to someone about finding a mentor?”

I asked the follow-up question, “How many of you have ever had a mentor?” 

Less than half of the hands went up. So I started at the beginning because, from my experience in working with learners of all ages, I knew most of them (even the ones with their hands up) were missing some key knowledge they needed to create a great mentoring experience.

Mentoring is a personal growth and development strategy where a mentor supports the mentee by sharing resources, expertise, values, skills, perspectives, attitudes, and proficiencies.

 

The short version –

Mentoring is finding someone smarter than you and learning from them so you get smarter faster.

 

As I work with leaders of high growth companies, I encourage them to find people who have faced the same challenges they have faced and learn from them. I do this because as a consultant and coach, I need them to own their development and find people to help accelerate their development.

I believe that in growth transitions (double-digit growth or moving into a new leadership role), there is tremendous opportunity for growth and tremendous risk. Having a support team around you in those transitions that is focused on your development is critical. I am confident in what I can do as a coach or consultant, and I also know I cannot do it all. Encouraging mentors is my way of asking for help without eroding their confidence in me as a consultant and coach.

Here are the 4 Steps for creating a positive and productive mentoring experience:

  1. Identify what you are trying to learn or what problem you need help solving.
  2. Do some research: Who do you know that has the knowledge or experience that you are seeking?
  3. Determine who is the best fit and how long you think it will take to meet your objectives.
  4. Make the ask by reaching out (or being introduced); be ready to provide this information:
    • What input/expertise are you looking for?
    • Why are you asking them?
    • What is the time commitment? (guide is 1-2 hours a month for 3-6 months or until objectives are met)

Recently, I reached out to a friend who is about 10 years ahead of me in consulting. I am reaching a point where I need to run my business differently to continue the growth I have experienced in 2016. I followed these steps, we had two sessions, and I left with a pretty big assignment: analyze my time and use it to create filter on my work in 2017. In this way, I can focus on the most important things, find help for some things, and say no to other things.

My commitment was to follow up with her by the end of the year with my progress. In my experience of mentoring dozens of people, this follow-up is the #1 missed step. Remember, at the heart of every mentor is a desire to help. Follow-up lets them know how they helped and demonstrates our ability to follow-through on commitments. It is also a fundamental belief/value of my business:

Learning + Doing = Growth

 

Whether you are a leader charged with developing your team, an HR leader supporting questions around development, or an individual that is committed to mastery in what they do, mentoring is probably the most powerful and accessible tool to help achieve your outcomes.

Here is a document I share with coaching clients to help them build powerful and positive mentoring relationships.

Lead well . . .

The ONE question leaders should answer hourly

The ONE question leaders should answer hourly

In the next week, I’ll be publishing a list of 5 books I recommend for leadership book clubs. A new addition is my favorite book this year: Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith. Here is why.

I believe that great conversations start with a question. Marshall Goldsmith asks some great questions in his book Triggers.

Some of the best:

  1. What is the most memorable change you have made in your adult life?
  2. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
  3. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals?
  4. Did I do my best to find meaning in my work?
  5. Did I do my best to be happy?
  6. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  7. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?
  8. Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required to make a positive difference on this topic? (called AIWATT for the rest of this post)

There are many reasons I love this book, and the main one is the author’s sharing of powerful questions that he has accumulated in his career as an executive coach. This post will focus on the significance of question #8, and how you can use it as a leader.

In a recent EOS quarterly, a leader shared a learning – “When we set goals, we need to make sure we set them so we can be excited about them and use that energy to complete them.” That is a powerful learning, and something that every leader needs to be thinking about when they accept a To Do or a Rock (quarterly goal). The AIWATT question is the action to ensure this happens.

Remember my 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance? The first tip is Own It, and it is my way of saying what Goldsmith does by posing this question to us. If you answer No to AIWATT, then some other conversations need to happen.

This brings me to a second belief I have – Leadership is about honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance. One of the powerful outcomes for me from Triggers is that, as a coach, I need to always be focusing on creating space that allows honesty to happen, because that is the hard part. In my experience, thoughtful action is the easier part.

Two myths that leaders need to remember:

  • We need to love 100% of our work. There is an eastern adage: Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. Here is an example: I don’t like confronting people I don’t know. However, as president of an all-volunteer athletic booster organization, one of my roles is to call volunteers who have made commitments and are not doing the work. It is my job and the team depends on my doing it – so I do it because I have to, and make sure I overbalance it with other tasks I enjoy doing.
  • We have to do 100% of our work. Delegating pieces of our work to others who have more talent/passion for that work is fine. Just don’t always pass on the hard conversations, and tell them why you are asking for their help – because they are better at it/more passionate about it.

Let me propose two actions:

  1. For EOS leaders: Teach the AIWATT philosophy. As you go through the To Do list, ask people to answer the AIWATT question with the caveat that if the answer is No they acknowledge who they will ask for help – or that I will Own It (and use those words). *Note: Make a note for anyone answering the latter, and follow-up with them one-on-one to do some micro-supporting.
  2. For individuals: Put an AIWATT on two post-it notes and stick one to your computer screen and one to your phone for a week. Ask yourself that question continuously during meetings, when you answer emails, and when you do any morning/evening quiet time. After a week, do 5 minutes of personal reflection with the question, “How did AIWATT impact my leadership this week? Of myself? Of others?” If this reveals something for you that you need to bounce off someone, just call me and we can do a 15-minute coaching session: 616-405-1018.

I believe . . . great conversations start with a question.

 

Leadership is . . . having honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance.

 

Lead well . . .

Hope as a leadership strategy: 4 keys and 2 questions to help build one

Hope as a leadership strategy: 4 keys and 2 questions to help build one

There is power in Hope, and yet it is something that does not come from the world as much as it used to. It is still something that comes from within us, and it is the hidden and critical piece of our ability to perform at our best.

Here are a few examples I have experienced:

  • Hope in a major personal transition

I experienced an unexpected job loss, and in the days that followed I learned about the difference between a good day and a bad day. On a good day, my personal outlook was captured in this formula: Hope > Fear + Anger + Hunger + Frustration + Loneliness + _______ + ________. I learned that in times of overwhelming change, our foundational outlook and strength (I called it YOUR ROCK in a keynote earlier this year) will be tested and defined. This is where our faith and social capital (friendships) will be tested.

  • Hope in developing your best people

When doing development plans for people, the best place to start is with something that will demonstrate their ability to get feedback and use it; 360° evaluations do that. I think of an organization that did this simple task with three high potentials (future leaders), in which two of them accepted the feedback and had a hope-ful discussion about how they could use it. The third was not ready, and spent most of her time on the threat and fear it created, not able to move past it.

  • Hope in leading

People expect leaders to be human in some ways, but not when it comes to managing stress and being hope-ful in the most difficult situations. Part of my work as a coach is providing a safe place to be honest and allow frustrations and fear to come out. When I coach, it is important to allow what has to come out to come out, and then ask the question – “What would be the one thing you want to focus on today in our time together?” It is a simple invitation to a hope-based problem solving session. Leaders need to learn how to balance reality and hope, and this gets modeled and practiced in every coaching session.

I read some wisdom recently from a hope expert, Dr. Anthony Scioli, who wrote a book based on his research – The Power of Hope.  He identified the four cornerstones of hope:

  1. Attachment – a feeling of connection and trust
  2. Mastery – a sense of empowerment and purpose
  3. Survival – the ability to manage our fears and generate multiple options
  4. Spirituality – faith in a religion or a set of life-defining values

Notice any common themes between my words and Dr. Scioli’s? It is no coincidence that the name of the process I use for career/development plans is simply called Journey to Mastery.

What are you doing as a leader to build and rebuild a hope-filled outlook for yourself? What are you doing as a leader to build and rebuild a hope-filled outlook for your team?

A client asked me to lead a sensitive conversation for them in the midst of some major change, and added, “You have such a great ability to make it safe to share difficult things and help us find solutions.” I thanked her, and thought back to my internal compass for selecting the clients that I work best with – passionate, hope-filled leaders that are over-challenged and under-supported.

What does your hope formula look like today?  Hope > ______ or Hope < ________?

What can you do to change the latter and maintain/build the former?  (Hint: See cornerstones above)

That is the foundation of a hope-filled leadership strategy.

Johari Window and Leadership Development – 4 Ways to Increase Self Awareness

Every time I share the Johari Window with a group of leaders, I am amazed at the impact it has on their view of the conversations they have with their team.

Then I think of the group of 24 leaders that I took through a four-day leadership development program last summer; at the end, 13 of those leaders committed to focus on asking more powerful questions. I need to stop being surprised because the leaders I meet want to be people-centered leaders, they just don’t know how.

I believe most leaders want to be people-centered leaders, and when given the tools and some feedback (to indicate their effectiveness in doing it) they opt to become more effective listeners. The Johari Window is a great lens for leaders to think about their interactions and for people to see what their leaders are trying to accomplish. At the core of an honest conversation is clarity around both the actions we are taking and the intentions of those actions, which is fertile ground for feedback and developing our self-awareness and ability to lead.

Here are the 4 tips I have added to help leaders see the key activities that develop their self-awareness:

  1. Experience – The best way to learn about leadership and work on how you balance telling, asking, and listening is to do it. If you are intentional about it, you will learn a lot about yourself, and your team will help you get better.
  2. Personality Inventories – These provide a great lens into your BLIND SPOTS and help you formalize how you talk about your own strengths and weaknesses. I focus on transition points, so I use the Birkman Method assessment because of the language it presents around needs and stress behaviors. This provides great feedback for things the leader can share (revealing the HIDDEN) and things they did not see (BLIND SPOT).
  3. 360 Feedback – Sometimes this is just asking people some key questions routinely or finding an outside resource to do a survey of key people. The whole intent is to bring things into the open, by confirming something the leader already thought was in the OPEN area, or revealing a BLIND SPOT.
  4. Coaching – This is the most common way for executive leaders to create an individualized development plan and work on the personal change necessary to make it happen. Coaches provide perspective, access to additional resources/learning, and ask the questions that allow for self-reflection, personal growth, and focused action.

Here is a handout that includes 4 additional introspective tips for moving things into the OPEN area.

Use the Johari Window as a lens to help you ask more powerful questions of yourself and your team. That is what is at the core of people-centered leadership.

If you want a deeper dive, here are two short videos (video 1 / video 2) that introduce the topic and give you tangible advice on what you can do now to be a more people-centered leader.

Simple but not Easy

Simple but not Easy

Simple doesn’t always mean easy.

Seth Godin shared this wisdom on February 28th, 2011 and I printed the post and hand it out every time I start an EOS strategic planning for an organization.

The reality, when we face decision points as leaders Simple but not Easy means – My options are clear, and . . . .

    1. I have never done what is being asked of me and asking for help seems weak, so I will think a little more
    2. I am a leader and it is important to be right so I need to think about it some more
    3. I wish there were one where the people, the business, and our customers all won
    4. My Strengthfinder talent is analytical, so I will keep using it and then switch to reason #2
    5. I am just plain scared of what I have to do

Simple blurs the resistance that keeps us from moving forward.  Seth calls it Shipping. Simple makes us feel like ‘I just need to figure this out.’ We move by the resistance by speaking the truth and using it to gain the support that will help us ship.

I sat with a leader recently that shared a story about a difficult conversation they had just had with an employee that was not performing and it was too important of a job to allow it to continue.  The employee agreed with the non-performance, and it looks like they will probably leave in the next 30 days or be let go.  Simple.  This conversation has been evolving for 12 months.  Not Easy.

Simple doesn’t mean easy.

Choose to ship. Encourage and support others to make the same choice.

trUTip – QuickTip:  Want to explore the concept of resistance?  Check out this video by the author of Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson.  I also like the book.