VIDEO: Communicating in a Crisis

Crises often occur unexpectedly. What can never be unexpected is a leader’s response.

The leader must assume control of the response with alacrity as well as authority. Integral to the response must be the leader’s command presence and the ability to communicate coherently and correctly.

Do these things and the crisis will remain, but people involved in the crisis will be assured that someone is in charge and is mobilizing the right resources and right people to solve the problem.

First posted on Smart Brief 1/02/2015

How to Cure Your Own Hubris (HBR)

Confidence is an attribute that every leader needs to embrace and to foster in others. But when confidence goes too far, it can become hubris.

Overdosing on confidence is easy to do. Jim Collins writes about the organizational side of hubris in his latest book, How the Mighty Fall. Stage 1 of organizational failure is “hubris born of success.” It “sets in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.”

Many leaders veer into hubristic behavior without realizing their shortcomings. We may be well intentioned, but we all suffer from a blind spots.So how can leaders know when their own confidence is verging on hubris? Here are some warning signs:

  • You make many decisions independently. No, dithering isn’t good. But bosses who make all of their own decisions without speaking to others are asking for trouble. How much do you ask for others’ input?
  • You can’t remember the last time you spoke to a customer. Failure to discover what people think about what you offer is not only foolhardy, it’s a recipe for failure in the future. If you think you’re “too busy” to connect with customers, that’s a warning sign.

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First posted on HBR.com 9/08/2010

Stop Your Power Trip Before It Starts (HBR)

Everything in moderation. My late father, a physician, always emphasized that to his patients. While Dad was focusing more on what people ate or drank, he could easily have been talking about how people behave.

I was reminded of Dad’s advice when I read Jonah Lehrer’s fine essay in the Wall Street Journal discussing the “paradox of power,” a syndrome that turns people in authority into dictators. Lehrer quotes Dr. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, who says, “When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools.”

Executives who engage in abusive or coercive behavior of their subordinates may be showing that Lord Acton‘s statement — “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” — is not just a maxim, but reality. Leaders can get into trouble by subconsciously thinking it they have no limits on their power, even though they’d never say such a thing out loud. Such thinking is all too often reinforced by direct reports who subordinate themselves in order to curry favor with their bosses.

So what is a well-intentioned leader to do? My advice is to regularly reflect on these three questions.

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First posted on HBR on 10/18/2010

VIDEO: Resilience — Your Tool for Success

None of us succeed without some kind of setback.

Too often, we don’t acknowledge our ability to deal with the negatives. As a result, we may stay negative, or too self-critical, and, as a result, not recognize the inner resolve that fuels us.

Defeat may always lurk around the corner, but it’s how we deal with it that defines us as the individuals we are, and can become.

First posted on Smart Brief 1/30/2015

Avoid Burnout by Focusing on Your Team (HBR)

Not being able to enjoy what you have accomplished is a symptom of burnout and it can be fatal to your career. But you are good at what you do, it can be hard to delegate.

For truly success-driven executives, there may never be a cure for the relentless pursuit of perfection. But for those who are willing to take a moment to reflect on what they might do differently, there is a cure: Shift your focus from your own success to your team’s success. Here’s how.

Lead, don’t manage. Management is a discipline that must buttress every successful organization; things must be accomplished with people, resources, schedules and budgets. At the same time, the top person must not be involved in all these details. He or she must lead, but empower others to manage.

Enable others. Successful people are good at what they do; that is why they have a tough time handing off to others. Type A managers never let up; they revel in micro-management. Sadly, they drive good people away — and as a result, they must do more and more. But savvy leaders learn break this cycle. Step back and let others manage not just the details, but also the decisions.

Take joy in others’ success. Achieving personal success lies at the heart of ambition. But for a leader, personal success isn’t really possible unless the whole team wins. When your team achieves an important goal, celebrate! Take personal satisfaction from seeing the people you have recruited and groomed succeed. Such personal satisfaction is important to keep your team feeling appreciated, but also to enrich your own life.

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First posted on HBR.org 11/10/2010

How Sell an Idea to Your Boss (HBR)

What do you do if you’re a middle manager who sees the big picture but you work for a boss who only focuses on the here and now?

That was the heart of question I received at recent workshop I conducted on leading from the middle for a national conference of training and development professionals. It was clear that the questioner had had first-hand experience with a boss who wanted his direct reports to know their place and not be thinking or acting big. And therein lies the challenge for eager, upwardly mobile self-starting managers: you want to put your ideas into play and see their results, but your boss only wants you to do what you’re told.

Once upon a time, organizations functioned just fine when orders flowed down from on high. But as the global business environment has evolved, the need for decentralized rapid decision-making has become critical. We need creative men and women to step up and lead from the middle. So what do you do if your boss wants you to keep your place?

First and foremost, do your job: make certain that you do everything you are asked to do. (It is your job, after all.) Once you have established yourself as a credible performer, there are three things you can to do give your big idea a better chance of success:

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First posted on HBR.org 12/03/2010

VIDEO: A-C-T Your Way to Receiving Feedback

Feedback, as Marshall Goldsmith taught me, is a gift. And as such we need to thank people when they deliver it to us.

It is not enough to say thank you. You also need to learn to accept it — and act up on it.

When the feedback is coming from a trusted source — even if we don’t like that individual — it should be considered, and changes made.

First posted on Smart Brief on 2/27/2015

How a Good Leader Reacts to a Crisis (HBR)

There is something about a big snowstorm that brings out the best, or more often the worst, in big city mayors. If, as former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local,” then you would think that the first hint of snow in the forecast would prompt mayors to relocate their offices temporarily to where the snowplows are dispatched.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who recently won a third term, and is widely regarded as an adept city leader, has come under fire for inefficient snow removal in New York City. Most of the complaints came from residents in the so-called outer boroughs — e.g., the four that are not Manhattan.

But across the Hudson, Newark Mayor Cory Booker has received acclaim for his response to the nor’easter snowfall, despite taking flak on a host of other matters. Not content with supervising removal, he plunged in with a shovel, helping to extricate cars, clear walkways, and in one instance deliver diapers to a housebound mother. He also tweeted his first-hand observations of the snow to his more than one million Twitter followers.

We like to see our elected officials in action. The contrast between Bloomberg’s reception and Booker’s can serve as a lesson for anyone in a position of authority. Here are some tips for the next big storm that hits your office:

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First posted on HBR.org 1/04/2011

Help Employees Listen What They Don’t Want to Hear (HBR)

When change initiatives fail, the culprit is often a lack of good communication from management. But that’s not always the whole story. Communication isn’t just about what management says; it’s also about how employees listen.

This point was made to me by an executive whose organization had difficulty in getting employees to buy into changes it had proposed. He felt his employees were choosing to tune out as a form of resistance. Such resistance can often sabotage the best efforts of management to drive change throughout the organization. It even happens when managers are diligent communicators and active in the communication process. Resistance will occur for any number of reasons: perceived loss of autonomy, fear of the unknown, or a dislike for upsetting the status quo.

And then when the long-discussed change occurs — be it an organizational transformation or a move to a new facility — the disgruntled rank and file mutters about not being consulted and blames management for being heavy handed.
What can you do to avoid, or at least mitigate, this kind of ugly situation? It will take efforts before, during, and after your communication push:

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First posted on HBR.org 2/17/2011