Empathy 2.0: The power of leaders becoming students

Empathy 2.0: The power of leaders becoming students

I just ended a vacation where our four children were around a lot. One of my goals was to listen, and I also found myself reading one book they all recommended (Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff) and starting a second book recommended by my oldest daughter (Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam M. Grant). The reading focus was in-line with my listening strategy.  Let me explain . . .

Last month I published my 7 favorite books for a leadership book study. The last book was The CEO’s favorite book. I did that because picking someone else’s favorite books automatically puts you in a listening mode because they love it and `will want to talk about it. For leaders, when you hear someone talking about a book, especially one that is motivational or work related, it is your opportunity to listen.

Walking by the opportunity could be an indicator of what I call intellectual arrogance, which is simply defined as possessed intelligence to a level that blinds us from entertaining another truth.

Walking by the opportunity could also be an indicator of OBN leadership (defined in my book as the Ought, But Not leadership). I believe in the developing of my people, but when given the opportunity to join in their learning I chose not to. People-centered leaders see that an opportunity to listen and

Don’t walk by too many of these opportunities, whether you are leading at home or at work

When the student is ready the teacher will appear.

It is a powerful statement by a leader to become the student. Powerful things will happen in that space. Remember that I titled this post Empathy 2.0. People-centered leaders are committed to finding time to see the world through the eyes of their people.

As you think about development goals for 2017, what about adding Ask each person on my team to teach me something. Here is your goal for being taught:  Success is learning it and applying that learning successfully – and my teacher will judge ‘successfully’.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often.

People Habits before People Skills – Johari Window

I remember the moment I became passionate about one-on-ones.  I was in day 2 supporting a nationally known author/consultant in the area of conflict management/robust conversations.  Our challenge:  We were 16 months into a curriculum rollout/organizational change and the success was present, but only in pockets.  As we went from group to group getting feedback on successes and failures, a question came to my mind, so I asked it.  “Bill, in your assumptions of organizations and relationships between leaders and their teams, do you assume that leaders are meeting one-on-one with their teams regularly?”   His answer “Yes.”  It hit me, we can equip leaders all day long to have these wonderful fierce, crucial, or honest conversations, and yet if they are not creating controlled space that is safe and focused (like a one-on-one conversation) it will be difficult to practice and change habits.  More importantly Failure rate > Success rate – and failure in the area of building relationships (ie. leadership) is expensive at many levels.

That is also the time I realized I would start a crusade around habits that mean the most to people (ie. engagement!) and that busy leaders, if they are willing to practice them will get the biggest ROT (return on time).

Here are some videos I have put together for leaders to think differently about this time using the Johari Window as a lens for not only how they listen, but how they create safety for their people by sharing first.

Leadership and the Johari Window – Part 1

Leadership and the Johari Window – Part 2

 What is to come?  A script for how this could be a 15 minute time of learning in one of your team meetings and a key note/workshop around one on ones where this could be used.  Subscribe to my trU Tips and you will get the templates.

I believe our learning model for most organizations has changed, instead of going off to class, practicing, and then coming back to receive practice/support to help us get better – we now are in positions where we have to learn as we do and it is important in that model to get support and feedback real-time.  Since 99.9% of companies have <500 people, this model works great as long as leaders are present on a somewhat routine basis and the time is productive for both leader and individual.

My goal is to equip leaders and key supporters (HR leaders) to help their people create the habits that feed a frenzy of honest conversations, that lead to thoughtful actions, and result in trUPerformance.

Excuses or Reasons? Two practices to help you listen

My words started the conversation “Did somebody feed the dog yet?”

The response started with the words “Well, she did not do what I asked her and . . . . . “.

It was the language of an excuse.

The thing that stuck in my mind was I will accept reasons, but please don’t give me excuses.  As I watch leaders and teams work through things, I have seen how excuses create lines for battle.  He said . . . .   She said . . . . They said . . . .   It gets messy really fast.  When emotions are raised by assigning blame first, it is hard for most people to step back and talk through it.  Excuses generally point outward at the environment or actions of others, and lead to blame and away from solutions.

When we focus on getting some reasons out on the table, it requires us to ask a few more questions to establish what assumptions or knowledge are being brought into the conversation.  Establishing this allows ownership to emerge.  The focus can then be on a decision they made that got in the way of something getting done or getting fixed, and what the action plan looks like.

Two great practices this week are to listen:

  1. When something happens or your outcomes are questioned, do you give an excuse or ask a few questions and focus on reasons something happened or did not happen?  How does it effect the conversation?
  2. As you interact with your team, what do you hear more of – excuses or reasons?  What is the impact of sharing excuses vs reasons?

 

I am holding out hope that some day my simple question gets answered with something like:

I am watching my favorite episode ever of Dog with a Blog and thought I would finish it before I fed our hungry dog.  That was probably not a good decision, because the next episode was my second favorite ever, so let me shut off the TV and take care of it.

 

I could be waiting a while, but I know the expectations I need to share and the questions I need to ask in the future.

Questions to help the work get done (and the team to be built)

Seth Godin had a recent post titled Two questions behind every diagreement.  In it he shares two questions that will help move through/solve every disagreement:

  • Are we on the same team?
  • What’s the right path forward?

By definition, you cannot have a team without common goals and group decision making power, and getting there requires conflict.  These are two great questions, but let me add a few more to help you apply this in your own team and move things forward:

1. Are we on the same team? –> What is the issue?  What is the outcome we want?

2. What’s the right path forward? –> What are three steps that will move us ahead?  What 1 step will I own?  What 1 step will you own?  What 1 step will we BOTH own?  (remember 1 + 1 + 1 = 3)

If you cannot answer/agree on #1 don’t skip/move ahead to #2.  The key to #1 is addressing the issue and not the person – ie.  If the issue is someone or what someone else needs to do to make my life easier, then the whole discussion is about winning and not solving a problem.  That means you are the problem –> so step back, take a deep breath, apologize, and step back into the discussion with a different mindset.

If you get to #2, the best way to build teamwork is to own work together.  If a solution takes 20 steps and 3 months, focus on the next 3 and 48-72 hours.  Progress/success builds relationships between people and teams are created along the way.  I can hear the complaints now – – But this is a very complex problem and 3 steps is too small. My next question:  Is the issue that the problem is too complex or We are not agreeing on/owning a solution as a team?  In either case – either start moving forward or punt the problem to another team.

fyi – If anyone on the team has a goal to sit back and let someone else fail so they can either:  a) Ride in and save the day or b) Play the I told you so card – – – they should be given one chance to hit the reset button, and then removed from the team.

Thanks for planting the seed Seth.

They asked: Performance management in small companies and Crucial Conversations

For my blog readers – the following is a post inspired by questions received from HR leaders that I will be talking with tomorrow as I share with them my talent scorecard presentation.  My pledge is that I will answer questions they have, and these were submitted as part of a survey I asked them to take.  It is in the vein of what I normally talk about, but exceeds my personal 200-300 word limit that I try and stick to because I want our conversation to fit into your busy schedule. 🙂

Question:  How do you create an employee development program specific to the needs of each employee?

I found out an interesting fact several months ago – 99.9% of organizations in the United States have less than 500 employees.   These organizations employ about half of the people in our economy.  This feeds into this question because the traditional answer to the question from training and development is to:  1) Develop job descriptions  2) Define competencies/measures for each role  3) Perform a gap analysis  4) Create a plan based on gaps  5) Revisit yearly with a performance evaluation.  Most organizations do not have the time, HR expertise, and patience to do all of these things.   Two things that are critical in developing people:  1) A trusting relationship between leader and follower  2)  A conversation around what they need (both company and individual) that is captured in a plan   2.5)  A follower ready to own the plan and a leader committed to supporting it.  Here is a link to the development plan and other templates I provide that will drive the right conversations and capture key information in a written form that can be managed.    fyi – it is that simple, but not necessarily easy.  I can blog on that at another time if you would like – just ask.  ANY size organization can put development plans in place for their people, and it is the key to helping people develop.

It states in Crucial Conversations that “one study of 500 stunningly productive organizations revealed that peak performance had absolutely nothing to do with forms, procedures, and policies that drive performance management.”  From my experience, I agree.  Please discuss how the process you are presenting makes a true difference in peak performance, including the aspects of the process which are most crucial to success. 

The reference to Crucial Conversations is a series of two books published by and sold by a consulting group called Vital Smarts.  My belief system on performance was actually born out of a conversation I had with one of their partners and a co-author from another book they published, Influencer.  I spent a couple of days with David Maxfield listening to him teach and working with him on a rollout plan.  Let me say the guy is brilliant, experienced, and their focus on helping organization/leaders become great at having difficult conversations is world class.  But in one conversation I asked “Do you assume that organizations you are trying to help already have a culture in place where regular one on one discussions are already happening, because it seems that is the key place where it would be easiest to practice what you are teaching.”  His answer was “Yes’.  What I knew based on my conversations with leaders in this growing organization was the one on one habit was not firmly in place.  As a result, the implementation of this key leadership skill was spotty at best.  I agree that conflict management is a critical leadership skill to enable great performance, but  I base performance/talent management on the relationship first, and then the other pieces/habits build off that.  I also agree that it is not policy, procedures first – – but I also know from experience that in order to Build Rhythm there has to be some structure in place.

I love talking to groups and want to make the conversation longer than an hour long keynote.  Feel free to comment or ask follow-up questions.  I welcome them.

Leader/Manager as Culture Builder

I have been asked to read and review David C. Baker’s new book Managing Right: For The First Time.  I write in books.  I circle, highlight, and dog ear pages I want to return to.  This posting is based on one of those pages**Special Offer for my blog readers:   If you are interested in reading this book yourself, the publisher has given me 10 copies to give to my readership.  I liked the book because of the simple wisdom it shares and how it fits nicely into a mentor/mentee or group study.  Email me if you want a copy – scott@thetrugroup.com. 

Manager = Culture Builder  (from Chapter 15:  Creating and Sustaining Culture)

I can hear it now – “You want me to worry about culture?  I am a manager trying to keep my head above water learning the job and reacting to all the change above me and below me, and now you tell me I am a culture builder?” 

Culture is the sum total of all your choices – this statement from David Baker caught my eye because it is simple and scary.  It reminds us that everything we do contributes to the environment (culture) we create.  A lot to digest, so let’s focus in on one thing that Baker calls out in his list “Enemies of Culture”.

The first enemy of culture for you as the leader is the technically proficient or very capable jerk.  I love the blunt language.  There should be a name for the person who uses their knowledge to elevate themselves and to step on others.   Jerk fits.

I have learned to ask certain questions when receiving the “They are really smart but everyone hates them.  Can you help?” call.  The first question is “Why do you want to keep them?”  I have to hear a compelling reason and a strong commitment from the leader or it is not worth my time.  I know from experience that 80+% of the people that are stepping on people do not know it, and when they get hit with that information they will need to see some extremely strong support to help them be successful or it will not work.

Action:  Here is a template I published for a performance conversation that makes it next to impossible to side step this situation as a leader.  Every performance conversation needs to be very explicit around: 1)  What you do on your job and 2) How you do it (ie: culture).  This enemy should receive high marks for being smart, and a substantially below standards for being mean.  

I can here the reaction now.  Scott – it is not that easy

Just to let you know, I did not say it was easy, but I feel very comfortable saying it is that simple.  Remember, as a leader the Culture is the sum total of all your choices.  Make the choice to address this enemy.

Why People Don’t Hear – 3 Actions To Help

  • I did not see this coming.
  • How can you let me go?  Just last week you said I was doing well.
  • It is too late for a counter offer.  The decision has been made.

I have seen lots of different situations in 20 years of working in and around organizations.  It was not until recently that I stopped being surprised by situations in which people did not see the news they should have heard.  We could discuss the endless reasons why, but that would not stop it.  Here are three ways to make most of the confusion go away.

  1. Write it down: Verbally telling people their performance is not up to par is only half the task.  When asking for more or defining minimum expectations it has to be written down.  Limit yourself to a page, but write it down.  If it is positive, do the same thing.  I am confident that 100% of the time verbal feedback is misinterpreted.
  2. Never deliver ANY news (good or bad) without scheduling a next step:  Bad news:  Take this and think about it for 48 hours and then lets get back together and make plans for  what will fix this situation.  Good news:  You are very valuable to this organization and I would like to come up with a list of projects/roles we should be working towards over the next 3-5 years.  Give it some thought and lets sit back down in a month and do some planning together.  People need time to process bad news.  Good news needs to be celebrated, then processed.   Next steps ensures the processing time is valuable.
  3. Ask them what they heard:  It is important to check for understanding in either situation.  In the delivery of good and bad news leaders usually talk too much because of nerves.  That is normal, but it is always a good check to end with – I have talked a lot, and it is important that some key points were clear.  What are you taking away from this conversation?  If they cannot repeat the main points you should repeat them (even if they are written down).

Assumptions are dangerous and we all have a hard time telling / hearing certain messages.  Follow these simple steps and make the confusion go away.

Do you have any helpful hints to add based on your experience?

How do you motivate others to do more? #followership

For my regular readers of my blog – this is a longer than usual entry.  Here is why . . . . . . .

I taught my class on Leadership / Followership (Building Organizational Performance Through Teamwork and Understanding) at the Holland Chamber of Commerce on Thursday (May 19th) and pledged to the participants that I would blog answers to any questions they had that could not be answered in class.   Here is the question and my answer – for clarification make a comment and we will continue the discussion . . . .

Question:  How do you motivate a follower to move up to the next level(s) without influencing, or dragging down, the others on the team?  Example:  A Minimizer to a Doer?

Answer:  This is a big question, so I will focus on the toughest situation, which is working with a Minimizer to move to a Doer.  (Here is a link to a post where I define my 5 Levels of Followership)

First question:  Start by asking yourself if this person has demonstrated a positive attitude and commitment to the organization.  Is it someone you want to have around?  If the anser is “No” or Not really”, then follow whatever process you have, but make plans to move the employee out of your organization.  Minimizers take energy that could be given to other, more valuable people in your organization.  If the answer is yes I want to keep them read on.

Part 1:  Understand the Situation (especially your role)

My first thought is to recognize the role of the leader in this situation.  The basic information that people need about their role is: (these are from the Gallup Q12 that are explained in the book First, Break All The Rules)

  1. Clear understanding of their job duties and measures of success.
  2. The tools (skills, training, support) to do the job well.
  3. An opportunity to do what they do best every day.

The first question is one that you define for them, and it would be a good exercise for you to write down the 5 or 6 key things you expect them to do in their role.  Question 2 is one you should address together based on your knowledge of what specific things they need to know and their knowledge of what they need (or might be uncomfortable with).

The challenge you will have is in the conversation to get this information on the table and have a great discussion about it.  As a leader, your key role is to get this information on the table in such a way that it can be dealt with and decisions can be made.

Part 2 – The Traps

The second issue is around the harsh realities of these situations.  In your question you mention wanting to avoid dragging the team down.  Here are three things to think about:

  1. If there is a Minimizer on the team everyone knows it and are probably waiting for you to deal with it.  Your inaction is having a negative impact on the Trust they have in you as a leader.
  2. The Minimizer probably does not know they are thought of that way.  I know leaders always struggle with this, but after being pulled into dozens of situations like this, I can safely say that at least 90% of people being fired or getting talked with about their lack of performance are surprised when it happens.
  3. Ask yourself the questions Am I ready to let them go if their performance does not improve and Am I willing to put in some hard work for the next 60-90 days to help them be successful?  These are the two questions I ask in choosing to help save someone.  If either question is NO then it is a situation that cannot be fixed so live with it.  If it is a relative (as happens with small businesses) – Maybe pay the person to stay home and get on with work.  This sounds crazy, but if they are taking energy from you and making mistakes that are costing the organization dollars it is too expensive to have them around.

Part 3 – A solution:

1.  Meet to get the issue on the table.  The key to this conversation is to make your observations known about their performance.  When sharing your feedback, focus on the situation and not the person.  When sharing the performance use the format “Here is the behavior I see, Here is the impact, and here is how it makes me feel.  Any conflict management book uses this as the basic outline.  Here is an example of how this might sound in a sentence.

Joe, you have worked here a long time and I have appreciated your dedication to this organization.  I have observed a few things recently in your performance that I want to talk about.  Last Tuesday a customer called with a problem and I heard you say “That is the only answer I have so if you do not like it, tough.”  The outcome of that discussion is the customer has taken all of their business to a competitor.  I am feeling frustrated because we worked hard to land that customer and keeping customers happy is critical to the future success of the business. 

A great resource to explore this discussion is Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

They have two things to do in step 1 before things move on:  1) Take ownership for the performance issues you point out   2)  Express and demonstrate the desire to make the changes necessary to be successful.  If these both do not happen (give them 24 hrs to think about it if necessary) then there is no sense keeping them.

A key piece for you in this conversation is to be open to their feedback on things you could be doing differently that would help them be successful.  Maybe they need weekly check-ins or you have not been really prompt about returning calls.  It could also be that they are in the wrong role.  Be willing to listen and consider things they bring up.

2.  Create a plan for their success that includes:  1) Short term(1-4 weeks) and long term (3-6 month) goals   2)  Area of focus to improve their performance – Build Trust, Build Focus, Build Confidence, Build Rhythm  3)  Needs they express (in areas of Support and Personal Development)

This is not an area where there is a set recipe.  The key is to ask yourself the critical question up front (do you want to keep them) and then get the truth(of their performance) on the table and Build Trust by demonstrating that you want them to be successful. 

Here is a link to a trU Tips  and a video on the topic of dealing with low performers that might also be helpful.

Great question – thanks for asking.

Leave the Squirrels Alone – Put Energy Where It Matters

Today at breakfast I watched the squirrels eat at my bird feeder.  Remember – I called it a bird feeder.  I grew up watching my Dad chase the squirrels away with every trap and method imaginable, so to this point in my life I saw the squirrel as an enemy.  Then I realized that 25 lbs of sunflower seeds was less than $10 . . . and that squirrels are just hungry.  Suddenly, the reason I had started this battle in the first place was fuzzy.  The only thing I could come up with was it was a matter of principle because I wanted to feed the birds.  So I decided to feed the squirrels and turn my energy to other things.

Seth Godin calls the part of our brain that takes over when we feel threatened the lizard brain.  More specifically, it is the amygdala or inner brain, and when it takes over the thought and reasoning parts are idled and fight/flight thinking dominates.  The resulting behaviors have been researched and identified by the Birkman Method as stress behaviors, and they are not normal or productive.  They happen when the lizard brain is in charge.

So what are the ‘squirrels’ you are battling?  In the business world I have seen operations square off with sales, engineering with design, quality with suppliers, finance with sales, and purchasing with just about everyone.  There are lots of battles going on, and in many the lizard brain is in charge.  Getting out of the lizard brain is one of those things that is simple, but difficult. Here are five steps to taking the control away:

  1. Step back and see the behaviors (yours and others) as lizard brain thinking.
  2. Ask the questions:  What is our common goal here?  What is the solution we are each offering?  Why are we so passionate about our solution?  (keep asking Why? until you get to the basic answer)
  3. Listen well and write the answers so everyone can see.
  4. Ask:  What solution best fits our common goal?
  5. Make a decision – and move on.

A grown man, in his pajamas, sneaking through the snow with a club to attack a squirrel is an image that reflects some lizard brain thinking.  What is a good image of your lizard brain taking over?  Identify it, remember it, and take the power away from it when it happens.

TrustBUSTER™ #1 – Talking behind the backs of teammates

Cover of "Fierce Conversations: Achieving...
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TrustBUSTER™ 1:  Talks negatively about teammates behind their backs

Every leader has he said/she said stories where someone says something out of the earshot of another that is perceived as negative.  It is no wonder that Patrick Lencioni’s first two dysfunctions in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team are the absence of trust and inability to manage conflict.  So how can you prevent this in your team?

Susan Scott makes the point in her book Fierce Conversations that “As a leader, you get what you tolerate.”  Complaining requires a talker and a listener.  If you listen and let it go you are tolerating it.  The best way to stop it is to have zero tolerance for it.  When you hear it, encourage  the person to address their concerns directly with the person or drop it.  If it continues then it needs to be dealt with as a performance issue.

In addition, recognize that most teams and individuals are not skilled at directly giving or receiving negative feedback, which forces disagreements to be internalized or appear as complaints that are passed around people and not directly to them.  Make attainment of this skill a priority for your team.  Even just reading and discussing the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott will go a long way towards helping people learn the skills that will help bring complaints into the open.