Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Right Answer, Wrong Approach

As a tenured leader in your organization, it comes as no surprise that you have all the right answers.  And if you were promoted into management from within, chances are you're known for your ability to solve problems for your team.  They bring you the issue, you tell them how to fix it, all is right with the world.


Your team isn't developing.

Think of the child who needs his shoe laces tied.  When he's a toddler, an adult does if for him.  But at some point before he starts school, they begins to encourage him to try it himself, coaching him on different approaches, until one magical day, it all comes together and he's doing it "All by myself!".

If your employees line up at your door each day with the latest challenges, it's probably because that's what you've taught them to do.  Because it's the fastest way to solution.  Because you have the experience and they don't.  Because that way you stay informed of what problems they're facing.  Because they need you.

We all need leaders, coaches and mentors.  But if your approach to leadership is telling and solving, your organization is missing out on all that your team has to offer.

Try the coach approach.  Ask for their ideas, talk about the possible results, allow them to try, keep an open mind, and eventually you can shift the responsibility of problem solving to your employees.

Be known as the leader whose whole team has the right answers, because their leader uses the right approach.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Co-Creating Your Team's Formula for Success

Looking for ideas to get your team engaged? Try some formula work.

Word formulas combine concepts to create a definition for success. Co-creating that definition as a team is a unifying experience.

Here are a few examples:

Awareness + Shift = Clarity
     Experience + Awareness = Understanding
          Efficiency + Effectiveness = Productivity
               Focus + Action = Results
                    Result + Growth = Accomplishment
                         Discipline + Structure = Sustainability

Formulas need not be kept to just two or three components, but in general, the simpler the better. 

Reasons to use formulas:
  • To clarify the pathway form one point to another. 
  • To provide an easily remembered equation for success. 
  • To help the team visualize the steps involved to solve a problem. 
  • To provide a simple focusing tool to guide a conversation. 
  • To get the team on the same page.
So whether you're interested in the definition of success for Service, Innovation, or even Teamwork itself, co-creating a word formula with your team is a great starting point. And like so many things, the magic might be less about the final destination than it is about the journey you took to get there.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Use Vacation to Fuel Innovation

Looking for more innovation from your team? Upcoming summer vacations can help.

Or more specifically, the days immediately following vacation. Brain research indicates that we're more capable of having an "aha moment" after a period of mental rest, like time spent away from the office.

What's on your work calendar when you get back from a break? Lots of catch-up time is the most common answer. Checking in on what you missed while you were away, taking the baton from whoever was covering during your absence, and hitting the ground running. This is no different for your team.  Their first priority is getting back up to speed to re-enter the fray.

David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, says this is a waste of a clear mind.

In his book, "Your Brain at Work", he shares research by Stellan Ohisson that explores how we need to stop thinking about a problem one way before a new solution can emerge. "When facing a new problem, people apply strategies that worked in prior experiences." "But as long as your prior approach has the highest level of activation, you will get more refined variations of the same approach but nothing genuinely new comes to the fore."

Genuinely New = Innovation

Your brain is hot wired for innovation after a break. 

What if the first day back from vacation wasn't used to get back up to speed. What if day one was devoted instead to innovation. We're back at work, but not the work of our day-to-day tasks and short term projects. Instead, we're at work creating the future, thinking big, finding new solutions. With the right planning and teamwork, the emails can wait until day two, even day three.

You're the leader, you could make this a part of your team's norm. Talk about it, plan it, schedule it, try it, measure it, and talk about it some more. But get moving - vacations are right around the corner.

Here's to your team's Summer of Innovation.  

You can read more about David's recommendations about using a fresh mind to tackle big challenges in his  blog post "Back From A Vacation? Don't Waste Your Clear Mind."on Psychology Today.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Day The Chicken Crossed the Road...And Knocked On Our Front Door

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Apparently to get helping finding her way home.

My first post on this blog was about our red front door.  Our neighbor's chicken is the first to take us up on its traditional meaning - "a safe place to stay for a weary traveler".

Lucky The Chicken lives, literally, right across the road from us.  A few weeks ago, she flew the coop.  Her owners told us later that they looked and looked for her to no avail, and so she spent a few cold nights outside (we still had snow on the ground).

Until she came knocking at our front door.  She had walked through the snow to our front porch and was flitting around, bumping up against the window and the door.  Our two cats found this to be fabulously entertaining and were perched on the window sills watching when I went to the door to see what all the ruckus was all about.

When I opened the door, Lucky looked up at me expectantly as if to say, "So, are we just going to stand here or are you going to invite me in?".

She was clearly happy to be inside and out of the cold, settling right in as we carried her around (up and away from the curious cats).  We left a message for our neighbors, and they came over later to collect her.  Lucky departed clucking quietly and safely tucked away under the arm of her owner.  She's welcome to visit again any time.

When we painted the door red, we would never have predicted that the traveler in need would be a fine feathered friend.  It's a good lesson in being open minded about who needs your help.  Any chance someone in your office you'd never expect could use your assistance?  If you create a "red door" culture, you could be pleasantly surprised about who takes you up on it.

And as to another age old question, which came first the chicken or the egg?  The chicken came first, the eggs were delivered later as a thank you gift from the neighbors.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Asking the Right Question

"But what do I say?"  This from my daughter, a middle school student who is rarely at a loss for words.  She had just discovered her grades were lower than she thought in one of her classes, and had agreed to go talk with her teacher about it.

One of the core development programs offered for business leaders teaches us to "move to the other person's box".  In other words, get out of your own space.  Try to understand where the other person is coming from, what matters to them, what situation they're in.

I shifted my perspective from parent to teacher.  What should she say?

Here's the plan we developed together:

  • Do your homework first.  She claimed to have studied, but was still getting answers wrong on her quizzes.  Before going to her teacher, she should compare her notes to the quizzes.  If the answers weren't there, she either wasn't taking good notes or she wasn't studying some other resource that she needed to know about. 
  • Don't triangulate.  Mom and Dad were going to stay out of it and let her attempt to resolve it on her own.  If that was not successful, we could always get involved directly later.  
  • Timing matters.  Ask for a separate meeting, not the last 3 minutes of class when the teacher has a line of students at their desk and is trying to get organized for the next period.  
  • Show your work.  Begin the conversation with her concern and the research she'd already put into it.  This would demonstrate ownership as well as speed along the conversation.   
  • Make the request.  And, as happens so many times, the wording of this request was critical.  We went back and forth on it, and decided that what she really needed to ask was:  "What can I do differently in the future to improve my performance?".  It was proactive and once again showed ownership, of both the problem and the solution.

It was a successful meeting.  Turns out she was taking all the notes, but not organizing them properly, and thus not associating the information correctly.  She's feeling very optimistic about being able to make the changes and seeing better scores on her next quiz.

And as it turns out, her approach impressed the teacher.  He told her he had never had a student come to him and ask what they could do differently going forward.  The typical question was "How do I fix this?", which is really a request to reinvent history, to get around the system somehow with an exception.

Even when people come to us with the wrong question or the wrong approach, if we're open to it, it can be a teaching moment.  And when they do get it right, say so and show your appreciation.

Feeling appreciative today for a teacher who told my daughter that she asked the right question to get the best answer.  


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Daniel Pink on the Skill of Influence

Influence is a hot topic in leadership development.  For C level executive, it's the ability to get support from the board, business partners, and investors.   For mid to senior level leaders, it's frequently referred to as being able to "lead across the organization".     

When brought to an executive coach it might sound like:  "I need help with influence where I don't have authority."  or "I want to be more successful getting buy-in from my peers." or even "People don't respect me/respond to me/follow me.".  

In Daniel H. Pink's new book, "To Sell Is Human", he calls it the ability to move people.  The title of the book will attract those working in sales, marketing, and consulting.  However, the thought leadership he shares in regard to the skill of influence should make it a must-read for any leader looking to improve his/her abilities in this key area.  

The basic premise of this book is that we all spend our days trying to move others, and thus we are all in sales.  This holds true whether we are leaders pitching colleagues, parents and teachers cajoling kids, not-for profit volunteers doing fundraising, or salespeople closing the deal.  Moving others means trying to persuade others to part with resources - money, time, attention, efforts, ideas/opinions - to exchange something they value for what we are offering.    

The book is an easy read, and combines new research with existing studies from well known and respected experts (many of whom I've recommended in previous blog posts).  My favorite aspect of the book are the sample cases.  They offer quick exercises to build skills in the areas of Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity (his proposed new ABC's of selling), Pitch, Improvise, and Serve - all of which improve our ability to move/influence others.

You can hear Dan talk about the research that went into his new book in this RSA podcast from February 26, 2013 in London, England.  He has the most viewed RSA Animate video of all time (Drive).  Keeping my  fingers crossed they strike gold again with an animation of his latest work.  In the meantime, the book is worth adding to your management library.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Studying the Outliers

"If we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average."

This is a quote from Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think, Inc., during a TEDx event.  His subject was "The Happy Secret To Better Work".  It's a highly entertaining and informative talk about his work on positive psychology.

In this presentation, how we conduct research was not the focus.  Yet, it's a concept that he and others have brought to our attention, challenging us to look more closely at the positive outliers.

It's the exceptions that are the focus in "Influencer:  The Power to Change Anything", a book I've referenced before in this blog.  They studied masterful influencers, people who were consistently successful in creating profound changes, and translated those behavioral strategies into specific methods that anyone can apply.

If we map out the data, the average will appear.  But so will the positive outliers, and the learning from our study of those exceptions is what gives us the chance to lift the average.

In our workplace, we are hopefully rewarding our superstar performers, our positive outliers.  Experts in behavioral science would tell us to study them, too.

  • What strategies are they applying?
  • What experience did they have before coming to our organization?
  • Who do they seek out for learning and support?
  • What resources do they use?
  • How do they organize/prioritize their work?

Study the behaviors of your positive outliers, and raise the bar for performance on your team.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why I'd Hire This Intern

There was a time, years ago, when companies were growing and eager to hire new college grads who showed promise.

I was one of those hiring executives going to the college job fairs,conducting the interviews, and speed reading the resumes.  It could be at times both exhausting and energizing depending on the quantity and the quality of the applications.

The Business Insider just shared a cover letter that's making the rounds on Wall Street because it stands out specifically because it doesn't fit the mold.  It comes from an undergrad looking for an internship who knows he's one of thousands applying to this company.  But rather than fill in the blanks on the standard cover letter template, he tells it like it is.  His blunt style is what's caught every one's attention, but I was impressed with his smarts.  Here's why:

It connects - His second sentence reminds the executive he's writing to that they've met before, in person.  He is not a nameless, faceless applicant.  They have a connection, albeit small, which buys him some time and some more reading.

Written in plain speak - How refreshing is it to read something that sounds just like a real person talks?  Since it was sent via email to someone he had met, he wisely chooses to take a more down-to-earth approach.  No catch phrases, no jargon, and no key words that'll impress the resume software.  He still makes key points about his major, his other internship, and the path he's charting for the future.  But, he surrounds that information with wording that feels less like an interview and more like a conversation.  It makes him a real person, and furthermore, acknowledges that he's writing to a real person.

It's realistic - He knows he only qualifies for an entry level internship, one that may include some pretty lowly errands.  Some might call this a humble approach, but I'd call it realistic.  He probably figured that out from his first internship.  So he puts it right out there - I'm not expecting anything special, just the chance to learn from professionals in whatever capacity is available.  That shows that he not only gets it, but that he'll have a good attitude about it.

Self awareness - He is not trying to be someone he isn't.  No puffed up accolade or exaggerations, yet he does manage to highlight his grades and his work ethic.  Notice how the positives come after the parts about how he's nothing special.  Yet, after a second read, you realize that he's not actually cutting himself down.  He's saying, I know who I am relative to others who might apply.  Often, self awareness is a sign of an open mind for learning, for feedback, and for growth.

No typos (almost) - The only word in the letter that's misspelled/typed is "crapp".  Intentionally misspelled?  We can't be sure, but the fact that the rest of the letter is well crafted and has no mistakes is an important balance to the plain speak.  It's shows a promise of professionalism.

Appropriate appreciation - In both the opening paragraph and the closing paragraph, he expresses appreciation for the executive's time.  First for having spent time with him at their initial meeting, and then for taking the time to consider his application.  Recognizing that an executive's time is valuable is both smart and refreshing.

If his resume is any good, I'd want him on my team.  Some of the best hires I made didn't fit the standard mold.  But they were smart, they worked hard, and they appreciated someone giving them a chance.  Now that, you can work with.