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.

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.

Time for a Career Check-up?

Time for a Career Check-up?

What is your habit about doing a career check-up and development plan?  I encourage the calendar changing to a new year as a place to step back, take a deep breath, and think about the past year, the current moment in time, and the coming year.  As I mentioned in my whitepaper 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance, a key piece is tip 5.5 where you Hone the Habits of revisiting your plans from the previous year.

Here is an outline of what a personal reflection might look like, in 4 simple, but not so easy steps…

First, remember my 30-30-40 rule on conversations.  A healthy conversation focuses 30% on the past, 30% on the present, and 40% on the future.  With that in mind and the goal being to answer a few questions about you and translate that into tangible goals for next year.

Part 1:  Look back on the past year

  • What were my most significant learnings from the past year?
  • Who were people that I am most thankful for because of the part they played in my year?
  • What did I accomplish?
  • What would I like to forget?

Part 2:  Take inventory of where things are today

  • Fill out a wheel-of-life (see attached).  For each piece of the pie answer the question – How satisfied am I with that part of my life? What do I have to celebrate?  What would make this part of the wheel stronger and more fulfilling for me?
  • Looking back at the entire wheel – What is one area I want to focus on in the coming year?

Part 3:  Look to the future.  I took this exercise from Rich Sheridan’s book Joy, Inc. – How We Built a Workplace People Love (p. 241)

  • Take a quiet hour to sit down with your computer, your tablet, or a pen and paper and describe a good day one year from now.  Pick an exact day.  Write down what is happening in your life on that day.  Here is a start to that letter:  It is December 15th, 2016, and today I . . . .   Then start writing.  The description should be dripping with detail.  It should be both personal and global – it shouldn’t be just about you; it should be about both you and the joyful results you are helping to produce in the world.  It should reflect both your personal goals and your work goals.
  • As you read through it – What part of your story jump out at you?  What are the significant things that you see happening – both personally and professionally?  What are the relationships you are celebrating?  What does it tell you about the things you need to focus on maintaining?  Building?

Part 4:  Read through the things from Part 2 and 3.

  • What do I need to KEEP Doing this year?
  • What do I need to START Doing this year?
  • What do I need to STOP Doing this year?

It is that easy, and not that simple.  Once you create a goal, build in some time monthly to review them and set up some progressive steps for making those goals a reality.  Here is a worksheet to help make your goals SMART-Er.

Let me leave you with one quote that I use with many of my clients and in my own life.  It is an African Proverb that says – If you want to go FAST, go ALONE.  If you want to go FAR, go TOGETHER.  This journey towards mastery is best done TOGETHER – so find some travel partners.

Empathy: 3 Things Leaders Can Do to Develop It

Seth Godin recently published a post on empathy – and it starts with the observation that Empathy doesn’t involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, “why did they do what they did?”  He goes on to share that if we really honest with ourselves, the answer to that question is rarely because they are stupid.

Simple advice, but in the world of business people doing the right things immediately impact our businesses, and often more importantly – when we get to go home at night or how much we can actually relax when we are on vacation.  Developing empathy is hard in these situations because we start in a frustrated place where the only questions on our mind are What were you thinking? or Why do I always have to fix this for you?.  These questions create fear and cause people to hide, and empathy does not reside in that place.

The thing is, empathy is a cornerstone for developing the talent in others, because when we do the work to see the things through their eyes helps to drive the conversation – What can we do together to close the performance gap that we both see?.  Asking and listening ultimately leads to the barriers others see that are getting in the way of the work.  Do you hear empathy in that statement?

Here are three things any leader can do to build empathy:

1.  Read – One thing I recommend for women and men is a book series call For Men Only/For Women Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn.  It was designed for couples to read about the perspective of the opposite sex, and I guarantee it will drive conversations and ah ha moments for both men and women.  Any book that gives you a perspective into a culture or person will create opportunities to develop empathy.  Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg was a book that did that for me this summer.

2. Do their job – In his book Rework, Jason Fried (founder of BaseCamp/37Signals) encourages entrepreneurs to do key jobs for 3 months before hiring people.  His reason is that it will give you an opportunity to know the work and challenges intimately so when you hire you find the right person and you know how to support them. Do you hear empathy in that statement?

3. Ask them – In my one-on-one templatesI share questions to help leaders start and end their time by listening.  Great conversations start with a question.  These questions are designed to hear someone else’s perspective on truth.  Remember, in performance situations the truth has multiple perspectives.

    • Recent successes and failures (to celebrate)?
    • What is energizing you right now?
    • What is frustrating you right now?
    • What is one thing that needs to be addressed by me? This organization?
    • How have I made your job harder in the last 30 days?

If we make the assumption that people want to tell the truth and we create a safe place to do that, empathy will happen when we really listen to the answer and learn how/when to act to support them.  Some things (many things) we cannot fix, but we can listen.

Listen . . . Lead.  Repeat often.

4 Questions People-Centered Change Leaders Ask

4 Questions People-Centered Change Leaders Ask

For those of you in Michigan, you know the name Rich Rodriguez.  He coached football at Michigan for several years and was fired for not being successful.  The ironic thing is that he was successful before Michigan (West Virginia) and he has had success since (Arizona).  The story I have about him is about being a new neighbor.  I was teaching a class and in small talk I met one of his neighbors in Ann Arbor.  She told me a story about him moving into a house that had 6-12 trees in the front yard and he did not like trees so he cut them all down when he moved in.  The neighbors were angry, and by this time he was also not winning on the football field, so the story ended with they were still angry and ‘he was a bad coach‘ on top of it.

Leadership is about managing change, and part of managing change is picking your battles initially until key people know you and trust you.  In any role there are a few key people that have to be on your side, and the key to success initially is taking steps to build trust with them.  These are called stakeholders, key people, or sometimes just neighbors.  A leader has 3-12 months to win over these stakeholders.

I specialize in leadership transitions, and one rule is not allowing a new leader fire anyone for 3-6 months.  My second rule for a new leader is to get a ‘grace’ period light on deliverables for about 3 months so they have a chance to build relationships with people.  When they do get deliverables they need to be heavily focused on getting wins with the people that need to trust and support a new leader when they do make mistakes, and mistakes are a given.

Back to Rich – as a leader and homeowner he can do whatever he wants.  His mistake at his house was cutting down every tree before people got to know him – which was only made worse when he did not win on top of it.  Ironic thing, he did the same with the program and alienated many people so fond of traditions he cut (like a weekly radio show) that when he started to lose more than win they did not support him.  The lesson, as a new leader ask before you cut down any trees – maybe by asking first which trees need to be cut down.  What does that sound like in a conversation?  Imagine interviewing all your new team and asking:

  • What questions do you/the team want to ask me?
  • What is working here?
  • What needs to be fixed?
  • What is one thing I could do to make you more excited about your job?

Listen well and they will tell you which trees to cut down.  My experience tells me that their list will look eerily similar to yours.

It is not that Rich Rodriguez is not an effective coach – he has proven he can win in the right situations.  His problem is that he does not adapt well to situations where he has to be patient and cannot just cut all the trees down at once.  What kind of leader are you?

Here are my proven processes on change.  I use them because they are people-centered and less focused on the outcome and more on emotionally moving people through the change.  Still performance focused, but people-centered.

 

Writing More Effective Goals – Some tools that will help

The most important part of professional development is writing the goals.  We can talk about it, we can get excited about attending a great class or program, but in the end what we do with what we have learned is the ROI!  Sure it takes support, maybe some coaching, but it has to start with defining a target we can focus on.  The goals and action plan are critical.

I was leading a book study with a group of entrepreneurial leaders, and as usual one of the conversations we had inspired me.  Also, as usual I had about 15 minutes to share some tips I have learned around writing goals and it was not enough.  So I wrote an article on LinkedIn titled Leaders – Write Better Goals for Yourself: 3 Critical Mistakes And How to Fix Them.   If you are at or near evaluation time for yourself or delivering evaluations for others, take a look.  My goal, as always, is to equip leaders with the tools they need to have more impactful conversations around growth and development.

Could you share it with your LinkedIn community?  Thanks for the help in starting a conversation around this.

Also – Here is a worksheet I use with clients to help them write better goals as they go through their own evaluation/development

 

Relationships or Performance?

When relationships matter, process trumps outcome

As leaders, we are measured largely by outcomes.  Did the work get done?  Was the margin there?  Yet there is a process that helps us achieve those outcomes that does call into question what we believe is most important?

In my work with growing companies I have learned to ask the question “What is your funding source – debt/cash flow, private equity, or venture capital?”  I can usually feel the difference, but ask just to make sure. When speed and growth/returns are so critical (latter two), then generally outcome trumps process.

Your talent strategy should reflect your belief in what is most important in your business.  This is also not about a good and bad labeling exercise.  Those words tend to stop a conversation and start an argument.  I use effective and not-effective, because it forces us to remember the outcomes we wanted in the beginning.  If our goal is 30% EBITDA growth and a few leaders get burned out and leave, maybe that is okay.  Fast growing companies need to be great at bringing in leaders/personalities that will figure it out and be successful.  That needs to be there #1 focus.

You see, the other edge to this sword is building trust.  Peter Drucker once said “The existence of trust does not necessarily mean they like one another, it means they understand one another.”  As a leader, just be clear with your beliefs and lead accordingly.  Actions need to align with beliefs, so people can see consistency in your approach.  You also need to continue to ask yourself “Are the results in my business and my team are proving my methods effective or not effective?”

I love having this conversation with leaders, because is revealing and it matters.  It also helps people define their own path to increasing their own capacity to lead.  That is a process I can get excited about.

When relationships matter, process trumps outcome

**If you want to dive into this topic a little deeper, chapter 2 in my book outlines what I call the OBN (Ought But Not) Leader.  On Amazon.

The talent shortage – and 4 tips for what you can do today

I saw an economist yesterday describe a perfect storm around talent with numbers.  These are for my immediate area:

  • Unemployment under 5.5%
  • Job listings outpacing job seekers
  • Flat wages for 3 straight years

The good news:

  • People are coming back into the workforce that were not in it a year ago
  • People are leaving organizations for new roles (see wages info above – seems to be the only way to get a raise)

So what does that all mean to you as an employer?

My observation – if you are not skilled at looking for talent, you will likely live into the headlines and feel the shortage.  Let me explain:

I do a couple of hiring projects a year for some of my partner organizations that are struggling finding people.  Here are the two things that I always see when I start a project.  (Always is a risky word – but these have been true for all of the roles I have helped with):

  • A posting that lacks a compelling reason to work for you.  Example:  I helped a charter school hire an HR leader.  They were struggling finding the right person and I noticed in their listing no mention of kids, the market they served (urban / high poverty), and their mission (every child deserves a quality education).  We made some of those critical changes, re-posted, and found a young and energetic candidate that was from the area and reflected the racial makeup of the district.  Recruiting is always a challenge – but step 1 is this simple.
  • A process that focuses on an external listing and does not leverage the greatest organizational sales team in the world – which is the people that come to work everyday.  LinkedIn is just another tool, but if it is used correctly it can be a way to leverage the networks some of your people have to get word out to their groups/networks to generate leads that helps you find people that might not be looking.  LinkedIn also gives candidates a way to rigorously check you out.  The question I got one time was “What if they ask a few ex-employees and they get scared away?”  My only thought is “What if they accept the job and get an earful at the next soccer game after it is too late?”

Here are four tips that build trust from Day 1:

  1. Spend time in the process.  Phone screen, initial in-person, 3-4 hours on-site, and a final conversation where they get to ask all the questions as you hand them an offer.  I use topgrading for all full interviews – no cat and mouse interviewing to test their skills at interviewing.  Candidate – You tell me your story that includes ups, downs, frustrations, and what your old bosses will tell me when I call them (and I will call all of them).  I don’t care if you were fired from a role, and it would be helpful to know why and what you learned from it.  My promise – Open access to anyone you want to talk to, plenty of time to ask questions, and  encouragement to contact anyone they know that is connected with the organization to vet what they are getting.  When candidates start commenting on how thorough your process is and how it stands out for them versus some of the other experiences they have had you know you are doing it well.
  2. As soon as there is personal contact – all communications happen with a phone call.  This  includes the “Sorry, we are not going to ask you back for a next round of interviews.  Do you have any questions for me about the process or feedback?”  There is always the time argument, especially the hiring managers.  I don’t argue, because the more people that think that the better chance I have of taking your best people.
  3. All of my time commitments are hit – no excuses.  Note to hiring managers – if you get busy and two weeks pass without you being active in your selection process you send a very strong message to candidates – my time is more important than yours and I will likely lead that way.  Most people will choose NOT to work for leaders like that, except the desperate ones.  If I commit to a call by Thursday, even if the process is going slow, I call Thursday.  I am amazed at the positive feedback from people for just using the manners I was taught as a child.
  4. The admin/receptionist is part of the interview – through observing and interacting.  I want to know how they treat people that they think are not part of the decision making process.  That is why they always come through the front door several times and I ask the admin to watch and give me their opinion.  This is the same reason senior leaders go to dinner with the CEO and spouses are included.  If the vibe from the spouse is not positive, then the candidate is not hired.

Here is a link to the role summary and focus sheet I use to either build or boil down a job description to something that can be used.  I also offer other templates around talent and performance if you are interested.

Talent is tight, and yet there are still things you can do to stand out because too many companies still don’t get it.

 

The Smartest Person In The Room

Have you ever met the smartest person in the room?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see Captain John Meier, the commanding officer of the Commanding Officer of the USS Gerald R. Ford.  He asked this question as he talked about steps he was taking to build the team that will launch this new aircraft carrier in 2016.  The one thing I will say about Captain Meier is that he spoke simply about leadership, and showed a deep understanding of the power of serving others first as a leader.  Another great thing is he was not selling a book, he was just taking time out of his busy day to tell his story.

How many of you walk into a room chanting “I am not the smartest person in this room . . . “?  I would never ask a leader to do that, and yet there are ways our actions can say it.

Captain Meier shared a couple of tips he had for living this mantra through your actions as a leader:

  • Always keep an open mind in problem solving sessions – challenge your team to bring/share solutions and just listen.
  • Make Learning a part of your day.

Imagine the power of spending time each day having someone on your team teach you something?  You implement Salesforce?  Ask someone to show you how to enter a new customer and then do 2 on your own with their help.  When we make a habit out of the two tips shared above we are demonstrating our intent to serve first as a leader.  It is never that easy, but it is always that simple.

Great conversations start with a question.  I spend time with leaders like Captain Meier because they ask great questions.

If you have never met the smartest person in the room you are not looking hard enough.

What Leaders Do – To Serve

What is a leader?

What does a leader DO?

How do I become the leader that I aspire to be?

Great conversations start with a question.  Becoming a leader requires someone to ask the three questions posed above, and then commit to the work of making the beliefs you have about leadership show up in the habits and skills you develop as a leader.

Six months ago I started a journey with a group of leaders in their field to launch a program designed to help a leader explore these questions, and start DOing the work of being a leader.  The group is called LeaderWork, and we are actually launching a year long leadership development program through our local university (Grand Valley State University).  If you are interested in learning more, here is a link .

One answer to this that is a core belief of mine and shared by the rest of our group – Leaders Serve.

To serve you have to care about the needs and goals of others first.  Not exclusively, but first.

To serve you have to be willing to take time to listen first, and find ways to make the priorities of your people your priorities.

To serve you have to be quick to say I am sorry, because the reality is that things will happen when things people want to do have to be put off for a time because of the needs of the business.  Or you will just forget.

To serve, you have to DO things like:

  1. Getting to know your people at a little deeper level – Why did they join the company?  What do they like about the role?  What are their talents and passions?  What are other ways they can see to contribute?
  2. Let them get to know you – All of the questions in #1 plus things like,  What are my priorities this week?  What keeps me up at night?  What people inspire me?  Why did I become a leader?
  3. Be ready to allow others to help you.  No relationship is healthy if it is only one way, and when we stay open to opportunities for others to help us and for us to help others, good things happen.

What is a leader?

What does a leader DO?

How do I become the leader that I aspire to be?

I believe that if you aspire to be a leader that has great impact, it is critical to start with these questions.

What do you believe?