VIDEO: Lead Your Peers

You can show someone a better way to do something, but they will not adopt your approach until they trust you.

Never is this more true than when trying to lead peers. Colleagues may resent or even fear assistance from a peer. Peer-to-peer leadership is seldom easy, but it is not impossible.

Leading colleagues rests upon two principles: understanding need and delivering value. You must understand the situation a peer is facing and you must have the skills to help him or her succeed. So, it’s important to consider what the need is and what value you can offer. So let’s define our terms.

When you deliver for others, they begin to trust you and become receptive to what you have to offer.

First posted on Smart Brief on 2/05/2016

Three Assumptions Leaders Should Question (HBR)

Corporate success rests on good leadership.

Or so we all believed. For at least a generation, we have praised corporate executives as examples of good management. To me, one of the most disturbing aspects of the current recession — aside from financial insecurity — is the failure of leadership, especially corporate leadership. So the question arises, what were senior executives thinking? How did they allow this to happen? And why were they so late to respond?

In May 2008, just as the recession was gaining steam, management strategist Gary Hamel convened a group of business leaders and scholars together to consider the future of management.

Hamel wrote up the group’s 25 suggestions for new approaches to management in an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Moon Shots for Management.” The analogy to the nation’s great “stretch goal” of the 1960s sets the framework for thinking really big and acting even bigger. The Ideas offered by the group include re-thinking hierarchy, re-defining the purpose of work, leveraging imagination and humanizing the workplace. What better time than now, when so much of what we took for granted is no longer working, to begin anew?

And so I believe it is appropriate for those of us who teach and write about leadership to question our own assumptions, too. Here are three assumptions about how leaders manage that are coming under challenge.

It is important for organizations to set firm goals. People need to have direction so it is important to point them in the right direction. But such a single-minded focus on goals may end up damaging individuals and the organization says a study conducted by Maurice Schweitzer of Penn’s Wharton School. Relentless pursuit of goals tempts managers to cross ethical boundaries and abandon “sound business practices.” Unreached goals may then end up frustrating an organization rather than helping it to succeed.

Quick wins are essential to managers in transition. Executives in transition need to make an impact in their organization. While it’s necessary to build strong relationships, striving for “quick wins” may do more harm than good, according to a study by Mark E. Van Buren and Todd Safferstone. Such wins may end up sabotaging the executive’s ability to succeed in the longer term. As the authors write in the Harvard Business Review, “The relentless pursuit of a quick win is what ultimately prevents new leaders from benefiting from it. Knowing that they must rack up quick wins to prove themselves, new leaders often trip up during the quest for early results. In some cases, they manage to get the outcome they were seeking in a narrow sense, but the process isn’t pretty, the fallout is toxic, and their ability to lead is compromised.”

Senior leaders believe in their CEOs. Grousing within the ranks about the people in charge is nothing new. But what is somewhat surprising is that people at the top also have skepticism about their CEOs’ capacity to lead. A study by Booz & Company stated that nearly half (46%) of all senior managers surveyed doubted the CEO’s ability to navigate the current crisis. If senior leaders doubt the ability of the person most in charge, the company’s future seems ominous.

Challenging assumptions is a good thing for leaders to do. It may be even more necessary in times such as ours when executives and companies we judged as solid performers have proven to be so deficient. And so a byproduct of this recession might be the formulation of new assumptions that govern our thinking and doing. And that’s a good thing, something in an earlier age we might have called progress.

First posted on HBR.org 4.06.2009

VIDEO: Facing Down Your Mistakes

How often do you think about mistakes you make in your job?

As an exercise, it may be worthwhile taking the time to itemize a top five list of mistakes you have made in your career. By focusing on what you did wrong, you will realize your limits, and you likely will also realize something else — your ability to recover from those mistakes!

Those who succeed in their careers are those who are willing to apply a critical eye to themselves. There will be things to criticize. But there will also be things to praise. And there should be comfort in that discovery.

First posted on Smart Brief 3/18/2016

What You Can Learn about Leadership from Jay Leno (HBR)

Jay Leno brought his act, called the “Comedy Stimulus Show,” to the Motor City for two shows this week; tickets were free. A car enthusiast, as well as a collector, Leno has long exhibited a kinship with this blue collar city. “This is one of the great industrial cities,” Leno told his audience. “This is a city that actually makes a product.”

To reporters Leno said, “GM’s not bankrupt yet, I was there today actually. I saw a lot of good product.” And now that the city and its environs are down in the dumps, Leno is doing what he does best: telling jokes and helping to take locals’ minds off the worst economic crisis to hit Detroit since the Great Depression.

Leno’s example is a good one for leaders to follow. While most leaders are not comedians, though lately a few in the financial sector have provided excuses for bonuses that have proven to be laughable, good leaders possess good people instincts. And right now most people, no matter what job they are doing, could do with a laugh. My point is not to turn you into a jokemeister, but rather to help you find ways to look at life from a different perspective. So, in that spirit, here are three ways to inject some levity into your workplace.

Point out absurdity. Leno is a master at satirizing everyday reality. “I don’t want to say our economy is bad, but now Mexico is building a wall.” Leno loves to poke fun at new products, want ads, and male virility. His long-running Jay Walking series in which he interviews people on the street illustrate just how hysterically unaware people can be about history and current events. Same applies to the workplace. We all operate on assumptions that someone else makes the coffee, buys the doughnuts and brings all the snacks.

Lampoon hypocrisy. “Now the government didn’t ask any of those Wall Street CEOs to quit. Isn’t that kind of a double standard?” Leno wonders. “If you build Cadillacs you are screwed. But if your chauffeur drives a Cadillac, you’re okay.” This joke underscores the double standard perceived by automakers who feel that those on Wall Street have been bailed out while those in Detroit have been put out. In corporate terms, this duality plays out when bosses reduce bonuses while employees reduce salary. There are always dichotomies between what we say and what we do.

Take the high and mighty down a peg. From his jokes about Bill Clinton’s “appetites,” George W. Bush’s work ethic, and Barack Obama’s bowling, Leno takes aim at presidents’ foibles. So in this spirit, start with yourself. Make it safe for people to make light of your shortcomings. If you tell a joke on yourself, you ease the tension in the room, especially when people are feeling uptight about work and their place in it.

As with all things humorous, tread carefully. Avoid jokes that lampoon gender and ethnicity; if you suspect a joke may be taken the wrong way, act on that assumption and don’t use it. The point of humor in the workplace is not telling jokes; it is to lighten the mood.

A leader’s job is to make the work continue. You see, even in Detroit, as bad as things are, the automakers are continuing to operate. And while the economic pallor remains shades of gray, people still have jobs to do. It is up to leaders to keep people focused. Reminding them of their humanity through laughter is a good way to do it.

 

First posted on HBR.org 4/09/2009

VIDEO: Make It Safe to Learn

One of the big reasons change initiatives fail is because people do not like to be pushed out of their comfort zones.

That is only the surface emotion; a deeper reason is that people are uncomfortable with learning something new. Changing will mean absorbing new information, processing it and acting upon it. Sometimes that is hard.

Learning is intrinsic to change. This video contains suggestions for leaders to engage in the learning process.

The operative word for leaders is to engage; get involved in the learning process as student and teacher and watch good things happen.

First posted on Smart Brief on 1/22/2016

The “Just One More” Solution (HBR)

Sixty-two phone calls! That’s what it took a friend of mine, a former executive vice president for national sales, to land a meeting with a new account. He made those calls over a sixteen-month period; each call represented one more attempt to gain the client’s attention. And when he finally met face to face with the client, she thanked him heartily for not giving up. Needless to say my friend’s persistence helped his company win the business.

This story surfaced in a conversation about the need for tenacity in our down economy. It is easy to become discouraged at the deluge of bad news that threatens to swamp us in despair. I am particularly mindful of our twenty-something’s who till now have not endured such heavy weather. [And this is NOT a knock on their work ethic. I have found this generation to be as hard working as any previous one.]

It is up to more experienced managers to show them the right way to conduct themselves. Not with platitudes but with action steps. And so in that spirit I propose the “one more” solution. Consider how you might:

Make one more connection to a customer. Many customers are not buying. Do not let that dissuade you from reaching out and meeting with them. Those who stay close to their customers today will be those who reap the benefits tomorrow.

Make one more attempt to sell an idea upstairs. Tough times are great times to pitch new ideas. Some bosses are naturally resistant to change. But you can make an extra effort to demonstrate the benefits of your great ideas. Be certain to argue the business case. Use the downturn to reinforce your salient propositions.

Make one more effort to engage your employees in the challenges facing your business. Listen to what they are telling you. Learn from what they share with you. Find ways to put some of their ideas into play. Not everything an employee suggests is golden but you demonstrate a willingness to learn if you listen.

And finally, think about what you can do more of in your own job, your own function, and in your own business.

Doing all of these “one more’s” is no guarantee. You or your business may not be viable in today’s tough economic times. Hanging tough might help in an endurance race, but it will not generate new clients or new business if your offerings are not competitive.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity,” said famed aviator, Amelia Earhart. “The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do.” Tenacity will pay dividends. Perhaps not immediately, but over time it will. Those employees and managers who exercise tenacity today will be those who have earned their resilience. That will hold them in good stead now and in the future.

First posted on HBR.org 4/16/2009

VIDEO: Put Feedback to Work

Feedback, as Marshall Goldsmith taught me, is a gift. Even when it smacks us upside the head like a two-by-four! Rejecting feedback without thinking about it is foolish.

However unfair you may think the feedback is — and most often it is very fair — there is a grain of truth in it that is worthy of reflection.

As Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen write in their book “Thanks for the Feedback,” negative feedback knocks us for a loop. It upsets our self-constructed image of ourselves.

So as, Stone and Heen argue, it is necessary to learn from feedback. One, you can learn how your actions are impacting others. Two, you can learn about yourself.

Feedback requires humility to accept, as well as the common sense to put it to good use.

First posted on SmartBrief on 12/31/2015

5 Things John Madden Teaches Us about Leadership (HBR)

Boom! John Madden has retired from the NFL broadcast booth. With an analyst’s eye for detail but a storyteller’s ear for story, Madden brought the pro game to life, and in the process, helped make the NFL an enduring staple of sports entertainment.

Madden not only excelled in the broadcast booth; he was a successful NFL football coach, guiding the Oakland Raiders to their Super Bowl victory in January 1977. Madden’s outsized but affable personality made him a natural as a TV pitch man. He also embraced the video game business, helping to develop and upgrade annually the EA Sports NFL game that bears his name.

So what can you learn about leadership from John Madden? Let me itemize five lessons.

Commit to what you do. Football coaches immerse themselves in their craft. From recruiting talent to coaching it, along with developing game plans and spending hours studying film, football coaches spend their lives molding players and analyzing those actions. Madden took the same work ethic to the broadcast booth; he continued to study film, meet with coaches, and interview players. Broadcast partner, Al Michaels, noted that Madden never regarded himself as an “ex-coach” moonlighting as an analyst. Madden thought of himself a broadcaster and worked hard at this craft. Like Madden, leaders need to commit to their jobs and do what it necessary to push the team forward.

Innovate as you go. Madden turned the clunky Telestrator, a video graphics tool, into an artist’s pallet for illustrating games from a coach’s perspective. Broadcast professionals respected Madden for his football smarts as well as for his gift to communicate simply and colorfully. Madden also advised on broadcast coverage telling producers and crew about team and player tendencies. All leaders may innovate personally but they need to be open to new ideas and encourage others to think freely and without boundaries.

Tell stories. Madden imbued his broadcast narratives with heart. Digressing momentarily from the action, Madden would spin picaresque anecdotes of players and coaches that gave viewers insight into players as characters who were sometimes funny, odd, even tragic but always very human. He also punctuated his calls with old fashioned expressions like “boom” and “pow,” a style that annoyed some but also heightened his everyman aura. Bosses who tell stories are those who can communicate a sense of humanity to the job that encourages followership.

Love what you do. When he announced his retirement on KCBS Radio in San Francisco, Madden made it clear how much he loved what he did. Football and subsequently its analysis were his life. Work life is hard and if you do not enjoy what you do, avoid it. But if you love what you do as a leader then you will have a fruitful time helping others achieve their goals.

And finally know when to say when. Anyone in a position of leadership who is thinking about a career change or retirement would do well to study Madden. He retired as an NFL coach after winning a Super Bowl and posting the most successful record of any head coach, a record that stands till this day. Madden then pursued a career as a football analyst starting with a handful of games in 1979. Thirty years later the love for the game persists but love of family his stronger. He wants to spend more time with his wife of fifty years, Virginia, and their five grandchildren. His parting comments made it clear that he was not ill nor was he being shoved aside. His contract was in effect for a further three years.

The NFL game will go on without Madden but it will do so enhanced by his legacy as coach, broadcaster, and innovator. Boom, indeed!

 

First posted on HBR.org 4/20/2009

VIDEO: Leveraging Doubt

Doubt, while annoying and irritating, can be a leader’s best friend.

When a leader hesitates, pausing to consider the assumptions as well as the options, she is doing what the organization needs.

How a leader responds to the second-guessing is a measure of his ability to withstand pressure. Knowing in your heart that you made the best call you could make at the time forms a foundation for going forward.

The leader has only her gut to trust. And when she can look into the mirror and say she made the best decision possible at the time then that is all you can ask.


First posted on Smart Brief on 12/15/2015

You Think You Have Morale Problems? (HBR)

Originally posted 4.23.2009

President Barack Obama visited CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia the other day to speak to CIA employees. In doing so, the President was doing what every senior leader needs to do in times of crisis: be seen and be heard.

People of good intention from all sides of the political spectrum have different views of the CIA, but inside the agency, employees have been feeling beleaguered and demoralized.

Therefore, in some ways, what has occurred at “The Company” is akin to what is occurring in many companies. It fell to the President, as it falls to all senior leaders, to rally the troops. While debate will continue to swirl around the CIA, what the President said and did at Langley is worthy of study for leaders seeking insight to communicating in tough times.

Come to them. When Director Leon Panetta introduced the President, he noted the employees’ enthusiastic response, “This is a very loud welcome [laughter] to a group that is supposed to be silent warriors.” Employees love it when top officials visit their location. It sends a powerful signal when the leader comes to your workplace. It demonstrates that what you do matters.

Affirm their worth. “You are on the front lines against unconventional challenges,” said the President as he itemized the work the CIA does to “support our troops,” “disrupt terrorist’s plots,” and help “destroy terrorists’ networks.” Therefore, the President said, “You should be proud of what you do.” Employees never tire of hearing their good work praised by people at the top, and need to hear that the work they do is consequential.

Stand with them. Knowing that many in the CIA are feeling under siege for the release of information on the torture memos, the President accepted responsibility for their release. But he made it clear that he would “protect your identities and your security” adding that he “will be as vigorous as protecting you as you are vigorous in protecting the American people.” Employees need to know that executives have their back because all too often when things get hot it is employees who suffer the heat first.

Do not pull punches. The President was explicit in expecting CIA to uphold the values of the U.S. Constitution. By contrast, “Al Queda’s not constrained by a constitution.” He noted that it may seem as if the U.S. is “operating with one hand behind our back.” No matter that CIA has “the harder job.” The President emphasized, “we will defeat our enemies because we’re on the better side of history.” Leaders need to have explicit standards, values and behaviors. Such things reinforce the culture and leaders need to endorse them.

Tough jobs in tough times demand solidarity from top to bottom. Leaders need to iterate what they feel and why they feel it.

Experienced leaders know that speeches may make headlines, but employees do the work. It will be up to the President through his appointed CIA director Leon Panetta to ensure that the CIA adheres to Administration aims when it comes to intelligence gathering. Showing respect for its work is a good first step; what happens next will matter to history.

Leaders can never assume that employees do not want to see and hear them, especially in tough times. What Obama did at Langley, senior leaders need to do in their own shops. Make the personal visit. Shake some hands. Give a pep talk. Take questions. Listen to what people are saying. And when possible, promise a return visit. When times are tough, the leader’s presence is an affirmation that what employees do matters.

First posted on HBR.org on 4/23/2009