How to Use Humility to Drive Performance (HBR)

I’ve written before about the importance of humility as a leadership trait. But, as was recently pointed out to me, humility is an important trait in employees, too.

When people act humbly, they are acknowledging their limitations and accepting that they cannot go it alone. This mindset is valuable to a team because it serves as an invitation for others to help. Humility, however, is not an excuse for slacking. It also means having the willingness to help others do their jobs when the need arises. It is a means for allowing different personalities to coordinate with each other.

Rick Hensley, an executive with Messer Construction, reminded me of the importance of this trait in employees after I mentioned humility in keynote address I recently delivered at Miami University. Rick, a vice president for information technology, has developed a “personal humility index” that he uses when interviewing job candidates.

Among the things Rick looks for are self-awareness, a “strong sense of modesty,” the “use of we and team versus I and me,” and the candidate’s desire to develop different levels of employees. Rick wants candidates to “see themselves as others see them.” Trustworthiness, along with integrity and honesty, are essential.

Fostering humility at work requires leadership and putting what you believe into action. Here are some suggestions.

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First posted on HBR.org on 11/05/2009

VIDEO: Leaders Seeking to Re-Energize Don’t Need to Go It Alone

So what do you do when you hit the wall?

Sometimes it is not simply fatigue but symptom of something deeper. You feel that you are lacking in creativity and, as a result, you are not challenging yourself or your team to achieve their best. You need help!

So find a partner — someone you can trust to give you good advice. Here’s how you can make it work. Every leader owes it to him or herself to keep challenged, focused, and energized. A good partner can help.

First posted on SmartBrief on 1/24/2014

 

How Communication Drives Performance (HBR)

“Courage, innovation and discipline help drive company performance especially in tough economic times. Effective internal communications can keep employees engaged in the business and help companies retain key talent, provide consistent value to customers, and deliver superior financial performance to shareholders.”
Watson Wyatt 2009

According to Watson Wyatt’s newest communication survey for 2009/2010, companies that are effective communicators “have the courage to talk about what employees want to hear,” “redefine the employment deal based on changing business conditions,” and have “the discipline to plan effectively and measure their progress effectively.”

Does this really matter? Yes. The study shows that companies that communicate effectively had a 47% higher return to shareholders over a five-year period (mid-2004 to mid-2009).

The link between communication and these three levers of performance — courage, innovation, and discipline — is a welcome one. These are themes that I have written about, taught and coached for years. Here is how you can utilize them in the workplace.

Courage. Watson Wyatt defines it as “telling it like it is.” This is especially true when it comes to delivering straight talk. Shielding employees from bad news is akin to treating them like children; it says they are not “grown up” enough to handle tough stuff. So why do companies do it? One reason is because they feel employees will lose heart and then underperform. The Watson Wyatt study shows just the opposite. Tell people what they need to know and they will reward you with solid performance.

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First posted on HBR.org on 11/19/2009

 

How to Crack the Self-Awareness Paradigm (HBR)

To bring people together around a common cause, it is critical that a leader be self aware. Jeff Immelt’s recent comments to the cadets at West Point reminded me of this fact.

Immelt, CEO of General Electric, said he he’s learned lessons from the Great Recession that have made him “humbler and hungrier… I needed to be a better listener coming out of the crisis… I should have done more to anticipate the radical changes that occurred,” he added. Such an admission reveals an executive who is comfortable in his own skin, even as he is making hard decisions about the future of his company.

Coming to terms with yourself is a private matter. But if you fail to come to terms with your own limitations and it affects your ability to lead then it could be worthy of public scrutiny. Toward that end, here are three questions leaders can ask themselves, or a trusted associate or two, about their own managerial performance.

1. What more do I need? This question might seem easy because a leader will always say she needs more time. True enough, but lack of time is often an excuse for failing to address simmering issues or to carry projects through to fruition. Ask yourself and others what you need to do more of; one answer might be “doing less.” That is, learn to delegate more and devote your time to thinking.

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First posted on HBR.org 12/23/2009

 

VIDEO: It’s Okay to Second Guess Yourself

The challenge of leadership is to do what is right for the organization even when it means reversing a decision.

When reconsidering a decision it is important to decide what you did, why you did it, and what will be the consequences of reversing the decision. Shrewd leaders think ahead, and are willing to reconsider decisions when situations change.

First posted on Smart Brief on 6/27/2014

VIDEO: Your Best People May Be Those You Overlook

re you overlooking the talents and skills of someone on your team?

Some star performers may lack the confidence to challenge conventional thinking about themselves and therefore they stay in their given roles.

Those who manage the talent pipeline would be wise to heed the words of composer Ludwig von Beethoven, who wrote, “The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, ‘Thus far and no farther.’”

Talent wins!

 

First posted on Smart Brief on 4/10/2015

Three Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs (HBR)

Sometimes when you’re wondering what to do next in life, good advice can come when you least expect it — like when you’re getting your hair cut.

Joan*, the hairstylist giving me a trim, mused aloud about what she was planning to do with her career. Cutting hair was just one part of her livelihood; she was also a professional caregiver as well as the owner of a rig that her husband operated. But her husband was about to retire from the road, and now they were wondering, “What next?”

Over the course of our brief conversation, in no more than the time it took Joan to cut my hair, I picked up on three attributes of her success that are helpful for any entrepreneur:

Practical. Listening to her brainstorm reminded me that successful entrepreneurs know how to keep their feet on the ground. First, they get inspired through personal observation, developing ideas from needs they see in the world around them. Second, they develop a concrete plan. They may work the plan, changing it as they go, but always with an eye towards getting a good return.

Purposeful. People with a practical outlook seek opportunities that add value, as opposed to opportunities that just seem “cool.” (It’s easy to forget this distinction, especially in well-established organizations.) Their focus is offering products and services that customers need and will pay for. For instance, Joan’s second job as a caregiver: that’s a service for which there is always a need.

Impatient. Sure, patience is a virtue in some cases. But for an entrepreneur, so is impatience. Joan is eager to make things happen so that she can continue to earn a good living. When it comes time for her husband to leave the trucking business, she will be ready with another venture. Her gumption and ambition make her impatient for success, and that drive increases her chances of getting there.

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First posted on HBR.org 5/23/2011

VIDEO: The Art of the Sound Bite

Anyone who is seeking to persuade, negotiate, or sell something is wise to learn the art of the sound bite.

Good sound bites are brief, pithy statements that sum up what you are trying to say. Short, sweet and to the point.

Proficient users of sound bites are attuned to their usage. This comes from being well read. Keep up with the issues but also read for pleasure.

The purpose of sound bites is simple — help people remember what you said and why you said it. When concise and colorful they reflect the speaker’s personality and amplify the message.

 

First posted on Smart Brief 5/08/2105