VIDEO: A Pocket Guide for Leaders

In this post, John Baldoni discusses his book, “The Leader’s Pocket Guide: 101 Indispensable Tools, Tips and Techniques for Any Situation” and what leaders can learn from it.

Before you can lead others, you must learn to lead yourself. Yet, those tasked with leadership roles must discover what their people — and their companies — respond to as they go. “The Leader’s Pocket Guide”provides concise, on-the-job expertise to inspire and direct readers on their professional journey.

Organized into three easy-reference sections — “Self,” “Colleagues” and “Organization” — the book supplies tactical tips and contains a handbook for creating an action plan for achieving purposeful results.

First posted on SmartBrief on 12/12/2012

What Nonprofits Teach Us about Leadership (HBR)

The recession that has staggered the world economy has leveled the nonprofit world. Endowments have lost significant value, and donations from corporations and private citizens have dwindled. But dealing with hard times is nothing new to many in the nonprofit sector. Well-run nonprofits know how to be frugal as well as creative in how they work with limited resources.

A core competency of the nonprofit world is people, men and women who are committed to a cause who know how to get effective results. A virtue of effective nonprofits is their culture; it extends beyond a gathering of like-minded people who want to do good; it is a generative culture that focuses on learning.

Recently I asked Stephen Gill, a colleague and consultant who has worked a good part of his career with the nonprofit sector, three questions about the value of creating a learning culture. This is a topic that Steve has written about in his newest book, Developing a Learning Culture in Nonprofit Organizations.

Organizations are cutting resources and headcount. Why is it important for an organization to create a learning culture?
“It is precisely because they are cutting resources and headcount that organizations, nonprofit and for-profit, must find ways to be more efficient and effective with what they have… To maximize productivity they need to be continuously learning. They must learn what they should be doing, how they can do it better, and how they will know when they have achieved the results they want…This means making information feedback, reflection, and knowledge-sharing part of the way they function on a day-to-day basis… Doing more of the same, even if slightly better, is not the answer.”

What can the for-profit world learn from the nonprofit world about establishing a learning culture?
“Nonprofits tend to be values-driven. They are concerned about the beliefs and motivations of their employees. This means that these organizations ask themselves questions such as: Are we doing what we ought to be doing in the way we ought to be doing it? What’s the impact on our communities and is that the kind of impact we want? Are our actions aligned with our values? In a learning culture, these questions are asked constantly. For-profit organizations should be asking these questions more often. They would have greater employee satisfaction and engagement and they would be better corporate citizens.”

What is a key take away from your book that has relevance to a manager seeking to navigate hard times?
“This is no time to do nothing about improvement. Even when the economy turns around, it is no time to be doing business as usual. Rapid change will continue and unless organizations are continuously learning they will not be able to sustain themselves. They need feedback and they need to reflect on that feedback and turn that learning into action. What better time than now? A no-growth mode gives managers the time and rationale to focus the organization on the collective discovery, sharing, and application of new knowledge. This is critical for emerging from hard times and managing the economic upturn that is inevitable.”

Fundamental to a learning culture is measuring impact, something in which Gill specializes. He has spent a good part of his long career helping organizations assess their learning and measure the effectiveness of their training programs. One evaluation tool included in his book features three essential questions that would be useful for any executive to use when gauging the effectiveness of any project. The questions are: one, what issues do we still have; two, how can we strengthen our organization based on what we know; and three, what challenges lie ahead. Answers to such questions can lead to honest evaluation of progress.

Next generation organizations will continue to evolve in response to the dynamic nature of bringing people together to work. Central to future success will depend on how well the organization can adapt and innovate. Those competencies will depend on creating a learning culture.

First posted on HBR.org 7/02/2009

VIDEO: The Art of Leading Your Peers

Peer leadership requires conviction that the person in charge is one whom you trust and are willing to follow even though that person has no authority over you. So why believe?

Leading those who can say “no” to you is always a huge challenge, but if you can convince them by your actions and your enthusiasm, then they might believe in what you are doing.

First posted on SmartBrief on 1/04/2013

How to Stay Creative Under Pressure (HBR)

Sergio Marchionne has lit a fire under Chrysler that is providing a spark of hope to the ailing automaker. From media reports, it seems that the Fiat team under Marchionne’s leadership is shaking up the place the way another Italian (albeit American) did a generation ago, Lee Iacocca.

As a hands-on manager, Marchionne expects his direct reports to meet with him regularly, which they can do face to face at Chrysler or via video conference. He also has ditched the executive suite for the engineering trenches so he can be closer to the action. Marchionne is to be commended for keeping the loop tight enough that executives can keep each other informed. But there is there is a price to pay. Marchionne, according to the Wall Street Journal, he expects his executives to be in the office as he is six or seven days a week “for the foreseeable future.”

Creating urgency to save a sinking ship is imperative. Working long hours to do so is also critical, but working day after day for months on end without a break is a bad idea. When a team is crashing on a deadline, pulling together can be energizing. But when there is no deadline in sight, the long hours exact vengeance in the form of loss of energy as well as diminished commitment. Managers do not become more creative by working harder; they burnout more quickly. You need give people a break from the day to day flow of work. Here are some suggestions for sustaining productivity under fire.

Set standards. The team leader must make it clear that during the crisis people are expected to assume a greater work load. The leader sets the example by taking more than his fair share of the work. Part of that work means being there for his team. At the same time, the leader does not need to decide how individuals must work. Often employees can decide how best to do their jobs. For example, mandatory meetings are fine, but every meeting need not be mandatory.

Get a buddy. One way to work smarter is to do what I have seen efficient organizations do. Team up with a co-worker to cover for you, not simply on vacations but also during times you will be out of the office. If your buddy is junior to you, then it can be a development opportunity. The leader can also buddy with a colleague or boss to stand in for him, too. Many organizations preach team as in collaboration but too few take advantage of treating teammates as partners. You can do more when individuals work together.

Mandate fresh air time. Get out of the office from time to time. This can be as simple as going out for lunch, or taking a walk in the afternoon. Clock time in the gym, too. Fitness is essential for tackling a heavy workload. The leader also sets the tone by making time for himself. When the team sees the boss taking a break (mental or physical), it gives the team permission to do likewise. Without the leader’s example, no one will follow through on making time for self.

Clocking long hours is not reserved for the corporate suite. Working in government, or even in the highest office in the land — the White House — can be grueling. President Obama vowed to make his administration family friendly, but as his chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel quips, “It’s friendly to your [Obama] family.” As a result many staffers, as reported in the New York Times, are feeling stressed chiefly because they miss time with their families. Continued long stretches of working extraordinary hours will cause talented people to leave early.

Taking breaks is not the same as doing business as usual. It is an acknowledgement that people are your most valuable resource. They need rest and relaxation as well as an opportunity to reconnect with their families. Rather than diminish urgency, it heightens it. Getting outside of the bubble of work allows the mind and body to recharge and be better prepared to face the gauntlet of challenges that lie ahead.

First posted on HBR.org 7/06/2009

VIDEO: Get Your Aspirations Right

Aspiration is about setting goals that push the organization to strive to become better than it is now. Aspiration is a process of reaching for the stars. But before you can reach for the stars, you check the ground upon which you are standing.

Aspirations must be feasible –and attainable. It’s one thing to reach for the stars, but if you trip on the stairs you could end up hurting yourself — and your organization.

First posted on SmartBrief on 2.01.2013

To Lead More Effectively, Increase Your Self-Confidence (HBR)

“How can I feel confident when I am speaking?” asked a participant in a recent workshop I conducted. While the question was specific to public speaking, the answer I gave is relevant to any leader, whether she is on stage giving a presentation or working with her team on an important project. The answer lies within you.

When it comes to leadership in the workplace, the primal spring of self confidence is an understanding of what you have accomplished and what you feel you can do next. This is not happy talk. Consider what has enabled you to achieve what you have achieved to date. When it comes to finding sources of accomplishment, you want to focus on the positives, your moments of triumph — those opportunities where you shone, helping yourself and your team achieve a goal.

Isolating your moments of strength is not the same as writing your curriculum vitae; graduating from college and landing a good job are highlights, of course, but when it comes to self-confidence you want to dig beneath the surface. Here are three related questions you can ask yourself to help you uncover your triumphant self:

What do you do well? This question opens the door for you to itemize the abilities that have enabled you to succeed to date. Focus on your talents: what you do well. For example, you may possess strong conceptual skills. You may be one who can think strategically, a person who can look at the big picture and see opportunities where others see only blue sky. Such abilities are your strengths; you owe it to yourself to recognize them.

Why should people follow you? You need a strong sense of self to lead others, so consider how you assess problems and find solutions. Look at occasions you have mobilized yourself and your team to tackle a tough assignment. Perhaps you took on a failing project and turned it into a winner. Or perhaps you found ways to reduce costs and improve efficiencies when others said it was impossible. In these instances, and in others you can remember, you have given people a reason to believe in your ability to get things done.

What have you done to earn the trust of others? This question should provoke a recall of what you have done to instill followership. You may have defused a conflict between two colleagues, or took the lead on nasty assignment that no one else wanted to handle. Or perhaps you went out of your way to see that senior management recognized the efforts of your team. Maybe you always accept accountability, not just for what goes right, but for what goes wrong.

The search for the inner source of confidence is neither an excuse for overlooking your weaknesses nor an invitation to hubris. Rather it is an identification of the strengths that make up the authentic you. Self-awareness is an attribute vital to leadership effectiveness. While leaders know their weaknesses all too well, even good ones sometimes overlook their strengths. That mindset can lead to an erosion of self-confidence.

“Confidence is like a muscle,” said a colleague of mine, Scott Litchfield of WJM Associates. If you don’t use it, you will lose it. I like that analogy for two reasons. First, it connotes that confidence comes from within ; it is something we can work on. Second, it puts leaders who must demonstrate confidence in order to attract followership on notice that it is their responsibility to nurture it.

It’s a leader’s job to set direction and determine outcomes; that only happens when leaders feel confident in themselves.

First posted on HBR.org 7/13/2009

VIDEO: 3-Step Method to Better Presentations

Getting a presentation ready for prime time can sometimes be frustrating. Content is seldom an issue; organization is. So let me share some advice I received from a Jesuit speech teacher who learned it from Aristotle.

Simple, direct and memorable, Aristotle gives us a handy method to employ whenever you need to make a presentation, long or short, that you want people to remember.

First posted on SmartBrief on 2/15/2013

How to Make People Passionate about Their Work (HBR)

I know two CEOs: one in publishing is a friend; the other in manufacturing is an email correspondent. There is a common bond between the two; both are in their sixties and both act as if they are closer to twenty-two. Their sense of vitality springs from their passion for what they do.

Each feels a sense of pride in the businesses he leads; more importantly, each is pushing his respective organization to new heights with a vigor found typically in much younger men. Their can-do attitudes seem almost corny, as if sketched from an earlier age or at least from musicals like The Music Man. But both men are in exactly the right positions at the right time.

Generating enthusiasm, or passion, for what you do is essential. It is doubly so in perilous times. When everything around us seems to be coming apart, a leader who has a passion for what he does is essential. Such a spirit fuels the engine of enthusiasm needed to spark the enterprise. More importantly, such passion is vital to convincing others that the work matters. It is easy to get discouraged by today’s market news and so it is vital that someone, be it the CEO or another senior leader, serves as the organization’s designated cheerleader.

Ultimately instilling passion for the work is not an exercise in rah-rah; it is a search for meaning and significance. So how can you cultivate passion for work in others and do it in ways that have significance? Here are some suggestions.

Focus on the positive. Passion in leaders can be palpable; you know in an instant that the executive cares about the company. In my experience, those senior leaders who stroll through the halls with a nod or good word to say to all are those executives who get things done. And it is because they are out and about, not cloistered in their offices on mahogany row. Rather, they are meeting with employees and customers, vendors and investors, getting to know issues and concerns. They also use these times to talk up the good things.

Address the negatives. Passionate leaders are not Pollyannas; they know the score, precisely because they spend so much time out of their offices. They see firsthand what is working and what is not, and because they have a relationship with people in all levels of the company, they can more readily mobilize employees to solve problems.

Set high expectations. Those who care about the work and set a high standard challenge others to do the same, but they should remember to balance their approach — knowing to sometimes ease up on workloads but never on expectations.

As much as generating passion for the work matters, it is no guarantee of success, or even survival. Radiating passion is no excuse for ignoring attention to the fundamentals.

Yet successful organizations are more than the sum of fiscal prudence. Good ones are the collective values and aspirations of dedicated men and women who have made a choice to work there. Such organizations, be they in healthcare or manufacturing, consumer goods or government, ultimately depend upon the commitment of individuals pulling together to make things work. That’s why you need leaders who have a passion for what they do and are able to spread that passion to others so that people feel better about what they do, and ultimately, what they can do better.

First posted on 7/16/2009

VIDEO: Humility Works for Leaders

Leaders who value humility are the ones other people want to follow.

Humility is not something taught in business schools, but it may be one of the most powerful attributes a leader can utilize. But leaders who do not readily accept it may not always be to blame.

Humble leaders are those who others not only want to follow but enjoy following because of strong leadership as well as strong humanity.

First posted on Smart Brief on 3/01/2013