Inviting the Voice of Ownership

I remember the conversation vividly.  His call came two weeks after my Situational Leadership class and his frustration was evident.

I am asking all the questions you gave us in the training, but they are not giving me any answers.   The How can I support you? question is just creating awkward silence, when I know they are buried and complaining.  I feel like that training was a waste of time.

That conversation was over a decade ago, and started me on a quest to better support leaders and those they lead in having more meaningful conversations.

So here is my response after years of working with other leaders and individuals in this space.

1.  Be patient – The lens of a leader is generally one where they see themselves as nice and approachable, so not answering questions confuses them.  Too often, people do not see them as approachable.  I can think back to an extremely approachable leader I was working with, and the feedback from her team was She is so busy, I hate to bother her with my problems.  Her approachability was impacted by people liking her too much and not wanting to bother her.

Her fault?  No.

Her problem?  Yes.

Creating the space and continuing to share WHY you believe this time is important is the step to focus on.

2.  Look for opportunities to DO support – Talking about support is one thing, but people need proof.  Your best people will only need a little proof.  Your lowest performers will need a lot of proof.  Focus your time and energy on your best people, and continue to provide evidence of your commitment and INVITE your other team members to join the performance conversation.

Notice I did not say try to convince them of your commitment.  People have to make their own choices, and you need to focus on what you control which is your actions and keeping what you are thinking in the OPEN part of the Johari Window.  (see my video to hear about the JoHari Window)

3.  Be patient, and celebrate your successes.

Summer can be a good time to re-start relationships because people are relaxed and have lots of things to talk about.  Use this time to build relationships and invite people into more meaningful conversations about their future and the future of your business.

Just don’t get bogged down by the people that do not want to go there.

If you are interested – here is a presentation I created to support individuals in managing their own career and performance.  A full whitepaper is available on request – just ask.

Just Add Fear – Is this a line in your Leadership Recipe?

Do you ever intentionally try and scare your people?  Is it a tool you use in your leadership toolbox?

Let me rephrase that:

  • Have you ever initiated changes without an adequate explanation  to anyone why the change is important?
  • Do you go long periods of time without bringing the team together to celebrate wins of the past and talk about what the focus is for the future?
  • Does your travel schedule dictate how often you bring your team together?
  • Do customer needs always trump team communication/gatherings?
  • Do you allow months to pass without giving people feedback on their work and asking what support they need?
  • Do you let people hole up in their cubicles and just work for hours/days on end?
  • Do you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, births, and show up at funerals for your people and their families?

The hands on work of leaders, the habits we commit to say everything about our leadership.  Fear is like water, it always finds it’s way into where it should not be and the damage starts without us knowing about it.  Any builder will tell you that creating a 100% waterproof house is impossible, but building well and adequately venting things will help us avoid major damage.  My experience tells me in any new building you wait for the first heavy rain and watch closely for those things that are not built well.  Leaks will show up.  They are always there. Some tips – Don’t start with the question – What is everyone afraid of today?  Here are some questions that will help you watch for/listen for fear:

  • What questions are hanging out there that need answers?
  • What should be our top 3 priorities for the next 6 months?
  • Where are you making progress?  Where are you stuck?  What support do you need to get unstuck?

Listen for confusion or emotions that will distract from our ability to solve problems and work together.  Those are the slow leaks of fear filling up the space in our heads that we need to use for thinking and reasoning to do our best work. Great conversations start with a question.  When it works, we have honest conversations, leading to thoughtful actions, and improved performance.  Fear is always looking to creep in and it will, just develop the habits that does not allow it to stay for long. When we do it well, we allow fear a voice, and we create conditions that don’t allow it to stay long.

To build great culture you have to give fear a voice, and also not give it a place to stay.

Development: Fun vs Easy, and 3 Tips For Leaders To Make It More Fun

A friend shared a great analogy with me last week comparing professional development and golf.  He had a friend that was a teaching pro in golf, and received lots of requests to ‘help my game get better’.  Ultimately he told everyone the same thing – if you want to get better you need to practice lots more, and play fewer full rounds of golf.  Person after person came for lessons, and only actually practiced when they were paying the pro for lessons.  Their games never really got better.

In the space between mediocre and great is work.   But not just work, purposeful work targeted at getting better in an area that you are interested in and passionate about.  There is nothing EASY about the path to mastery, and yet there are moves to make the work more fun.

If you lead others, here are three tips for making the work you ask from your people more fun:

  1. Leader – you first:  If people see you taking on projects where you name the intent (challenge/growth) and keep a positive attitude when it gets hard, they will have a role model.  Your attitude towards your own development will permeate your team.
  2. Ask first for participation:  Two easy questions for people:  What do you want to do more of in your role?  What do you want to do less of? – help people identify areas they want to focus and work to match that with improvements you want made.   They get more practice in an area of interest, and you make it a range session.
  3. View failure as learning:  Part of practice is hitting a bad shot.  Make a habit out of doing two things when that happens:  First, pour your energy into either helping them fix it or thanking them for reacting so quickly to fix it.  Make it a point to circle back and simply ask the questions:  What did you learn from that incident?  What steps can we take to ensure that does not happen again?

The one thing I did not hear from the pro is the option of using a slow day on the course to hit multiple balls, retake shots, or take some extra time to think through shots.  I often see the summer as a time to bring in some interns, spread the work around ,and give people time to focus on improving their games.

Practice is what you make of it, you won’t reach MASTERY without it, it will never be the classic definition of EASY, and many times you will have to work to make it Fun.

When I see MASTERY at work in a controller, a project manager, a speaker, or a COO I marvel at how easy they make it look – and I also seek out the story behind their MASTERY.   Funny connection – their story never sounds easy, but it often sounds fun.

3 Tips for Doing One-on-Ones: Skill #1 Approachability

I have developed and coached leaders for a decade now, as well as sitting in the seat as a ‘busy and stressed out executive’.  It was in the latter role that I began to see my own relationships with my people deteriorate because I was too busy and distracted by challenges I could only share with a trusted peer, my leader, or (more than likely) my spouse.  So I know One-on-Ones are hard.  I also know they are critical to leading well in any environment, but especially in a fast paced environment.

One of the key things a leader has to develop is APPROACHABILITY.   The Leadership Architect® by Lominger describes Approachability as:

Is easy to approach and talk to;  spends extra effort to put others at ease; can be warm, pleasant, and gracious; is sensitive to and patient with the interpersonal anxieties of others;  builds rapport well;  is a good listener;  is an early knower, getting informal and incomplete information in time to do something about it.

First, I get to sit with leaders as an outside expert there to support them.  Rarely do I meet with someone that does not fit this – when they are relaxed, maybe having a glass of wine or a coffee, and they are across from someone focused 100% on what they need (my role as a coach).  So let’s start with a few reasons why others don’t see you as Approachable.  Here are some excuses I have heard from some highly paid/skilled professionals as to why they don’t approach you for One-on-One time.

  • She seems so busy, I hate to bother her.  Even when her door is open or she is darting from meeting to meeting she seems deep in thought.  She is a kind person, but I can’t bring myself to interrupt her.
  • It feels weak for me to ask for time.  We have had so many layoffs in the last decade, that I somehow feel like if I ask for time I might fall into the ‘needy/hard to manage’ group that ends up being the first on the list that gets generated as soon as we see a soft sales forecast.  I need the direction and feedback, but end up talking myself out of asking almost every time.  The last time I scheduled a One-on-One I thought about it for almost a year before I asked.
  • I don’t see him doing that with his leader or the board.  If he does not see the value in it why would he do it with me?
  • She mentioned scheduling something once, but that is the last time we heard about it.  Our filter with her on work she asks us to do is jump on it when she mentions it the second time, so until we hear it a second time we don’t think she is serious.
  • To do it means getting past his assistant, who scares me.  One time Jill asked for some time and after the grilling she got from Shannon ‘The Pit Bull’, Jill never went back.  Jill still tears up when she tells the story.  Nobody messes with The Pit Bull.

Here are three moves you can make to be seen as SKILLED in the area of approachability.

  1. You own scheduling the first 6 meetings.  This gets them past the Pit Bull in your life, shows them you are serious, and takes the burden off of them.
  2. Always lace your script with questions.  Start with – What significant things have happened for you in the past week? Then work in:  What are your three priorities this week?, What celebrations have you had since we last met?”  and What support will you need over the coming weeks?  Being skilled at approachability means you get informal and incomplete information in time to do something about it – – – and the only way you get that is to ask questions and listen for what keeps being mentioned by one person or is a theme across your team.
  3. Never miss without rescheduling, and never extend the committed time.  The reality is you are busy, and if you say 30 minutes stick to it.  At least part of your team needs to learn to be brief and focused with the time, and you are not helping it by sitting there for an hour every time.   If they need more time schedule it right there, but end with “How can I support you between now and our next One-on-One?”.

This is the beginning of a series around One-on-Ones.  I welcome your thoughts and comments on what has worked.  I answer all comments on my blog or emails, so send me a note.

Much of leadership is about great conversations.  When we have them, good things happen.  Step 1 is being more approachable.


Listen Well

I follow several thought leaders and information sources, and there are only a couple I read >90% of the time.  Seth Godin is one.

His post today was very simple:  Two ways to listen

You can listen to what people say, sure.

But you will be far more effective if you listen to what people do.

I have been working with a career transition program called Shifting Gears, that helps mid/late career professionals make successful career transitions.  Many come because they have been out of work for >6 months.   One of the most important part of the program is captured by changing Seth’s words around a little.  I would say:

Others can listen to what you say, sure.

But the relationships you build will be defined by your actions.

Others are listening, and instead of worrying about how you are perceived, focus on how you live into the words you speak.

I remember one conversation in Shifting Gears that happened as our day began, and the individual was angry, frustrated, and seeing all the barriers (plus making a few up) between themselves and work.  Two hours later, they had moved past the barriers, and were optimistic and doing the work of finding work.  In listening to their actions, it became clear that they were developing  the capacity to get knocked down, and to get back up.  I saw them do this multiple times, and each time they came to apologize to me for being so stuck and negative – – I shared with them what I saw.

“Being stuck is part of any journey, and telling me about it is fine.  My job is to just listen sometimes.  What I respect and admire is that you made the choice not to stay there.  Keep doing that and you will be fine, and the world will get a gift when you are back working.”

Seth is right, and we will be far more effective as spouses, parents, professionals, friends, and leaders if we use that lens on ourselves before we use it on others.

Listen well.


Training is up . . . is ROI?

I remember every detail of the conversation.  The executive was talking to me about an investment in his people as the economy just started to recover in 2010.  He said he had put $2500 in the budget for training for each of his people.  When I asked him what kind of training he was thinking he said “He did not care, it was up to them.”  I asked him what kind of conversations they had around the development of their people, and if some sort of written development plan was part of it.  He said No.  Was this a wise investment?

Spending on training went up 50% in 2013, which is a great thing.  Investing in your people is always a good thing because, at the very least, it shows them you care.  As you spend more just remember two things:

  • 90% of learning happens outside the classroom
  • 70% of people go to training without a reason for being there

(see trU Tips #3 – Improving Your Training ROI)

In my opinion, the ROI of your training spend is dependent on these two numbers.  For the first one, when I do not see a written development plan my experience tells me that most of your people are getting training randomly and waiting for training $ to appear.    Secondly, without a written development plan and one-on-one follow-up with their leader, people see training  as something they show-up to, but very little gets transferred back to the job.  The data supports this, and in the era of flatter organizations, I would be surprised if the transfer of learning to work improved.

Quick tips . . .

First tip:  When someone on your team goes to training take a 3×5 card and have them write one learning objective on one side and you write one on the other – then after the training set a date to review these goals within a week of them returning to work.

Second tip:  Have someone do a single page summary around what they learned, how the team might benefit from what they learned, and one thing they will be doing to apply what they learned – then share it at your next team meeting.

I did several employee surveys in 2013, and in each of them the lack of training and development was highlighted by people.   It is good to see the money being spent, and if you want a higher return for your investment just the two tips above will make a big difference.  Each will also lead to a great conversation.

I still believe that Honest Conversations, leading to Thoughtful Actions, and ultimately Improved Performance is at the core of culture and talent management.  Commit to it, and the returns will surely follow.

Tough Conversations

Is there someone in your work life that is causing you pain?

There are some great books out on having difficult conversations.  My two favorites:  Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and Crucial Conversations by the Vital Smarts team.  When I script leadership development activities, this is the #2 learning must for any new/current leader.  It is that important and it gets easier, but it is never that easy.

If I were a leader every time I looked around the room and realized more than half my team is new in the last 12 months, I would make a group learning assignment to read/reread one of these books as a team.  It could also be a gift for a new team member, and if you do that remember my gift giving advice!

Let me add another voice to this topic, a TED talk by Ash Beckham.  It is not specific enough to outline the skills of having honest conversations with people, but it certainly speaks to the heart of the topic.  I found myself laughing as she shared her own transformation to having more honest conversations.  Her voice is not academic – instead it is very real and that makes her advice/story relevant and helpful.

She started by controlling her own narrative first.  It would be a great follow-up to a book study group because many of the themes of the above books are captured in her talk.

A big part of having tough conversations is showing up often enough – in a focused manner – with your people to have all the other conversations that constitute a relationship. Habits around One-on-Ones and team meetings are critical to making this skill even more relevant and EASIER.

What makes tough conversations tougher is when, as leaders, those are the only time we show up to connect with our people.

Leadership – The biggest choice you will have to make

As a leader, at some point you must decide what you believe leadership is.

I uttered these words in trU Tips 28, and I can’t stop reading them.  Most of us lead in places where there are no competency models, corporate training departments, coaching pools, or learning and development budgets.  We might not have an exact idea of how to answer this question, and yet it is a question that starts a journey and refocuses a journey.  Once you answer it, these next few questions help you chart a path to personal growth AND significance.

  • Where do you lead in your life today?
  • How would you prioritize these leadership roles?
  • How would you rate your performance in each role?
  • How are you getting better at ________ leadership role?

Continue reading

. . . and When We Want Feedback – Step 1

(Thanks to Seth Godin for planting the seed for this post – this is post 2 on this topic, see Post 1 if you want to start at the beginning)

I have talked to dozens of groups about feedback, and in almost every case someone comes to me and asks me to give them feedback based on my interactions with them.  I applaud their willingness to seek feedback, but it is the wrong place to start because there is no context.  Some feedback is too broad.  So if you want feedback, here are some tips for gathering valuable feedback.

Step 1:  Mentally be ready

Feedback is not about feeling good (that’s applause), it is about getting better.  There are ways to effectively give feedback that allows us to not only reflect on successes (things we need to KEEP doing), but also identify where we can get better (START doing and STOP doing items).  Regardless of the method, to receive the feedback you have to first prepare yourself to get it, because it is always hard to hear.

Jodi Glickman wrote a book called Great On The Job, and in it she outlines some very simple advice on feedback.  Here are the phases/steps she outlines for getting valuable feedback.

Phase 1:  The Preparation

  1. Plant the Seed
  2. Schedule the Conversation
  3. Provide Specific Guidance (of What You’re Looking For)

Phase 2:  The Conversation

  1. Ask for Concrete Ways to Improve
  2. Say Thank You
  3. Wait, Digest, and Revisit

The number one miss I see happening is skipping Phase 1.  The key to this step is letting people know you will be asking and helping them understand what would help you the most.  If you are working on your nerves – ask them to watch for signs you are nervous.  If you are working on use of humor, ask them to track laughter and how effectively you used humor.  The key is to plant the seed and to pick a time to talk about it that is convenient for them and will be the best time for you to hear it.  fyi – sometimes coming off the high of a 2 hour presentation is not a good time for you to really listen to feedback.

I do a lot of presentations to groups, and when it is possible I take one of my children so they get to experience me at work and I have someone that will give me feedback.  In a presentation last year to a group of entrepreneurs I took my oldest daughter.  I told her before I started that I wanted her to watch me and give me feedback on one thing I could do to improve.  At the end, I took her to dinner and asked her what feedback she had for me.  Her response was “You did a good job Dad, but at the end when you went around the room to ask people What one thing you are taking away from our time together?, you talked too much so it dragged.  At that point people want to leave and you need to keep things moving.”

She was right – I did start too many 20-30 second conversations.  It was great, and it happened because I first focused on The Preparation.  Next time I will be better.

Whether it is a One on One or a performance conversation, Always start with preparation.  Remember, leading and being led is about having Honest Conversations that lead to Thoughtful Actions, that result in Improved Performance.

What Seth Said – and more . .

I listen to many experts/sources – Seth Godin, Wired Magazine, Inc. Magazine, Parker Palmer, Huffington Post, Thomas Friedman, Emily Bennington, my Mom, the Wall Street Journal.  There are more, but these stand out for me this morning.

The one I go back to daily is Seth Godin.  I like Seth because his voice is edgy and challenging, and he writes about things that are important.  Here is a piece of his recent post called The feedback you’ve been waiting for . . .

“You did a great job. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I wouldn’t change a thing. You completely nailed it, it’s fabulous.”

Of course, that’s not feedback, really. It’s applause.

Applause is great. We all need more of it.

But if you want to improve, you should actively seek feedback.

(here is the full post if you are interested)

It is so true, and I am guiltier than most.  I know that.  Traditional wisdom would tell us, as leaders, to commit to this and go start asking for it.  That will be nice, but it won’t work because unless we put ourselves in situations where it HAS to happen it won’t.  Most people are too nice, and most of us are too afraid to ask.

For leaders – Here is what you can to get feedback:  1) Create a safe space where it can be given   2) Ask  3) Be genuinely excited/grateful when you get it  4) Don’t give up.  (fyi:  #3 is harder than #2 – and you won’t be successful unless you do #4)

For individuals – See above – – and when you see a leader looking for help to get better, be courageous and constructive.  We are constructive when we focus on behaviors, not intent.  If you are not sure what that means – go study Fierce Conversations)

The safe space is the one on one.  When we create time for others to help us lead them/support them, and ask the right questions we will get feedback eventually. (see previous post).

Seth started this thought, and I am more than happy to finish it.  More importantly – Are you ready to finish it with your actions?