I am a father of four. With a sixteen year-old driver as part of that mix I sometimes think I have seen it all, but I am still hit by things that make me go Hmmmmm. Here is one of those moments . . . . .
At swimming lessons for my 8 year old I looked down and saw 30+ kids, 5 instructors, and in the middle a lone lifeguard watching everything. I saw the need for the lifeguard, but did not recall them being present for past lessons. Later I asked my wife about it because one of her summer jobs was being a lifeguard, and sometimes she has proven more observant than me. 🙂 Her response – There is always a lifeguard because when you are teaching it is difficult to watch all the kids all the time. There is real risk in not watching young children near water, when being 99% safe is not enough because the 1% has a name, parents, friends, and a beating heart.
My mission is to be a guide for others so they realize the excellence they were born to achieve, and in living that mission I often engage with and worry about the safety of new leaders and teams. My world is growth organizations and leaders/teams in transition, and I see the real risk in not having a lifeguard around to monitor safety/progress in their pools. Here are three ways organizations create lifeguards for leaders/teams:
Mentors: Assign mentors(not their boss) to meet frequently (1-2x a month) with new leaders to see how they are doing, watch the team during the transition for evidence of issues, and just provide support.
Six month transition plans: New leaders need to connect with their teams, build the trust of their teams, and get assignments where they can generate wins for themselves/their team. Formal written plans helps make this happen.
Leadership peer groups: Some call it Leadership Orientation or New Leader Training. Fortune 500 companies can afford a program, but the main benefit of these programs is to create a peer support network. Peer support can happen with no impact on the income statment, so any organization can afford it.
One myth . . . Our human resources leader is our lifeguard:You mean the HR leader who has to respond to daily people emergencies, do it now calls from the CEO, worry about legal compliance, and answer frequent questions about benefits/payroll/etc? Reality check . . . Do you want your lifeguard watching the pool 70% of the time?
Lots has been written about leadership transitions. Michael Watkins is an expert in leadership transitions and his research has determined 40% of leadership hires from outside of a company fail within 18 months. Brad Smart is an expert in hiring and his research suggests that it takes organizations 18 months to let go of a bad leadership hire at the cost of 14.6x their base salary.
A 40% failure rate is a lot of drownings. I think organizations need to do a better job having lifeguards around.
In a meeting recently I was with a group of people deliberating the hiring of a leader for a not for profit organization. One observation was a lack of experience in a fairly important area. A wise member of our group pointed out that it could be a good thing because ignorance = fresh eyes. We all agreed that it was a good choice, but only if we all committed to supporting this new leader and connected her with a mentor. We committed.
I like the word ignorance. I like using it in front of groups because people snicker, almost like it is some sort of soft cussing word. I have to remind people that it just means I don’t know. Not I can’t know or I will never know . . . just I don’t know.
Here are some rules for hiring ignorance:
DO IT if you see passion and gifts that get you excited about having this person thinking with you AND you are committed to #2.
DO IT if you are ready to actively support (mentor/coach) for 6-12 months and forgive some mistakes.
DON’T DO IT if your industry is too complex/specialized, you are too busy, and your team is too talented to be patient with a learner. You might read this as sarcasm – but I really mean don’t do it. If any of these three things are true or perceived to be true it is not a good place to shed ignorance.
DON’T DO IT if you sense a comfort with the ignorance – if there is not hunger to leave that state. Look somewhere else.
Ignorance is actually the basis of a good development question for leaders and followers alike.
What do you feel ignorant about right now?
What would it mean to have that feeling go away?
What is one thing I could do to help make it go away?
Carry that word around with you for a couple days and see what you notice.
I am a big fan of Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services. She is a great coach and passionate about developing leaders that make a difference. She is also thoughtful and nice. The kind of person you trust as soon as you meet.
I had the privilege of doing a two guest posts on her blog around leadership development and coaching.
Here is the link to the second part of the post:
I am a big fan of Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services. She is a great coach and passionate about developing leaders that make a difference. She is also thoughtful and nice. The kind of person you trust as soon as you meet. I had the privilege of doing a guest post on her blog around leadership development and coaching.
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.
I was facilitating a team building conversation with a group of twelve people. Half of them knew each other well and the other half were new team members who were working in regional offices. For the trust part of the session I asked each person to answer three questions and we went around the room to share answers. The three questions were:
Trust – do you give it automatically or do people have to earn it?
If you give it – how do they lose it? OR If people have to earn it – how do they earn it?
Bonus question: What are “forgiveness factors for you” – ie. If these factors are in place you will forgive trustBUSTING behavior.
There were two A-HA moments. The first was when someone shared her surprise that everyone did not share her answer to the first question. She thought everyone required people to earn trust. The second moment was from my perspective at the front of the room. I saw many of the new people taking note of what their new peers said about trust. For them, the information being shared was helping them understand how to establish solid relationships in a new organization.
So what is the impact of being slow to trust others? I like to focus on transitions(leadership and job) because this behavior will be most evident in the building of a new relationships.
For a new leader, people will sense your lack of trust because of the questions you ask and actions like taking work away from them or micromanaging. If they do not know why you are staying so close their likely response will be to lower their trust in you. This begins the slippery slope of eroding morale and engagement. It can be fixed, but it will take lots of effort on your part.
A good move for a leader is just to be open about it. It could be as simple and direct as saying “I need to see the work your capable of so that I understand what skills you have and what you need from me in terms of support and development.” By putting it on the table your motives become known and might even provide a way for your new people to manage you by keeping you in the loop on things. Remember, your people will judge you based on your actions NOT your intentions.
For a new employee, your peers need to get to know you and being slow to extend trust will slow the building of new relationships. You will need to trust somebody. When I hired people with low trust (we assessed this as part of the interviewing process) I made specific moves during the selection and onboarding process to earn their trust. Things like never missing a committed deadline, over communicating, and being transparent about what was happening. If there is not a onboarding process in place to support your need to build trust quickly, find a way to fulfill your own needs to build those relationships.
For anyone, transparency is the best policy to counteract this behavior. If you are open it can be handled. A good onboarding program greatly lessens the effect of this because trust is being built from the beginning and this should cease to be an issue.