Avoid Leadership Pitfalls: Direction Versus Speed

On a Fast Train to the Wrong Destination?

By Elizabeth McCormick

Elizabeth McCormickHave you ever had a day where your wheels spin a bit slower? Have you noticed your team not putting the usual miles in at the office? Could it be burnout? The need for a vacation? Or is there something more underlying the malaise?

Many have experienced a much bigger drag on resources by giving the orders for your team to take off flying at full speed, only to find out later that the course was in the opposite direction of your desired goal.

Then, there are other times when a project is well underway and everything seems aligned properly, but there’s just no lift. The wheels just won’t leave the ground. Although tasks are getting completed and checked off the list, there’s no altitude allowing the project to accelerate. What’s happening? When started with a laser-focused goal in mind, the direction can change quickly if the proper guardrails and benchmarks aren’t set in place to keep everyone on target.

There’s a world of advice on staying productive, but those activities don’t mean anything if your coordinates are off, and that may be one of the biggest wastes of time (not to mention energy drains) you and your organization could experience. Assume nothing, clarify everything, and have it in writing. Click To Tweet

Here are five tips to assure your leadership and team directives match the end result you envision.

1.  Know Your Destination: When you begin with the end in mind, you have a distinctive vision of your desired direction and destination before instructing your team to launch. It doesn’t matter how big or small your project is—if the direction, intention, or desired outcome isn’t clear, it will be tough to fly your team to the dream. Assume nothing, clarify everything, and have it in writing. If some aspect is open to interpretation, close that loophole up, or better yet, ask your team to contribute to the ownership of the project by being open to their quest for clarity.

2. Engage Your Team: Once you have communicated the objectives to your team, start by having team members re-state the goals and desired outcomes in their own words. Confirm and clarify often. This quite naturally highlights any variance between intention and perception. You can also use this opportunity to start fleshing out the project, brainstorming with the team, and adding detail to the project. This type of activity will help jumpstart the comradery as your team begins working together as a team toward a common goal. This will also enhance the collaboration necessary to ensure proper communication can take place from beginning to end.

3. Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan: Once everyone is on board and the team is headed in the right direction, be sure you have established the proper safety devices, benchmarks, and signposts for you and your team, so that if there is any drifting off course, it will be recognized and realigned quickly without much time or effort wasted. Ensure that work is broken down into manageable, measurable, short-term goals to aid in motivation and increase productivity. Work organized into logical segments also aids focus and self-management of direction.

Complex projects lend themselves to digressions and diversions. Spelling out where you should be and when keeps efforts centered on the essential goals originally intended.

Another way to encourage motivation and productivity is to take the time to get to know your ‘flight crew’ and their strengths. Don’t randomly dole out tasks; be strategic in aligning tasks with specific gifts and skills, allowing team members to take ownership of their part of the project.

4. Own Your Results: As a leader, it’s your attitude, stamina, direction, commitment to the project, and work ethic that establishes the environment and culture of your team, as well as the success of your project at hand. If you are unclear of your destination, you can be sure your team will have a tough time understanding the purpose of the project and the directions you are trying to communicate.

One of the biggest reasons people drift, get distracted, and are taken off task, is that the purpose for their task isn’t strong enough to keep them engaged. If this is happening, recognize it, take some time to clarify your purpose and your destination, and then let your team know you wish to communicate better as you share your vision more clearly and effectively with everyone involved.

Sometimes the best of plans just don’t have the results intended. It happens. Maybe it was due to misinformation, miscommunication, not enough research, too many agendas, a drastic change in the economy, or an unexpected shift in trends to name just a few of the ever-changing facets of being a leader in business. Regardless of why it happened, own the results. Empower your team to help you assess what went wrong, develop the proper benchmarks and guardrails to prevent that from happening again, and then map out a new flight plan to a better destination.

4. Collaborate—Share Your Progress: For most people in corporate positions, there’s (hopefully) an effective boss who helps ensure there are proper reports on progress, with the responsibility to follow up. What happens, though, when you’re the boss? Who does your project most effect, and who needs to know about the progress of your company, your goals, and your overall destination—your stakeholders? Your staff? Your clients? Other departments?

Regardless of who your project affects most, it is important to communicate, collaborate, and share your progress. Your strategic plan very well could be a thing of beauty, worthy of a business textbook. The marketing department, however, may have new information that invalidates an initial premise or puts your data out of date. Informing them only at completion risks the success of your entire project. Or, your biggest clients may be ready to sell their business and retire, which now means your project underfunded.

Include progress updates to those who your plans will impact, so that changes can be incorporated along the way. Sure, detours are inconvenient, but navigating them minimizes backtracking and maximizes the effectiveness of your efforts.

Leadership On Course and at Full Speed: With the direction of your project embedded in the planning and with contingencies made for changing conditions, you’ll soon see that the extra work in project planning serves productivity. When the runway is clear, your direction is plotted, and your flight plan is filed, you and your team can attain top speeds as you soar to success.

Elizabeth McCormick is a Keynote Speaker specializing in Leadership, Sales and Safety presentations. She was recently named number four on the list of Leadership Experts to Follow Online.  A former US Army Black Hawk Pilot, and author of “The P.I.L.O.T. Method; the 5 Elemental Truths to Leading Yourself in Life;” Elizabeth teaches instantly applicable strategies to boost your employees’ confidence in their own leadership abilities. For more information, please visit: www.YourInspirationalSpeaker.com.

Managers Become Leaders with a Shift in Focus

By Brian Braudis

Brian BraudisSenior leadership at the corporate headquarters of a large retail chain was entertaining succession planning. What started out as an exercise turned into a sweeping new protocol for transitioning managers into leaders.

For the organization, it’s vitally important to get this right. Managers sometimes trip on their way up. Senior leaders can mitigate stumbling with an aggressive strategy.

Managers are typically promoted into leadership roles with the thought that their effectiveness will continue; but rather than assume, senior leaders are wise to put into place a two-pronged approach. The first prong is to place the right candidate. The old cliché applies: “Hire for attitude and train for ability.”

The second prong is to cultivate the well-selected candidate. This involves extensive training opportunities and environments that promote growth. New leaders typify the shift from a working manager to a learning leader. Click To Tweet

Transitioning managers into leaders should ideally start long before the switch is flipped. Early on, candidates should be “groomed” through extensive training, cross-program experiences and leadership development. Preferably the training, experience and development will culminate by equipping the candidate-leader with a view and an understanding of the “leadership landscape.”

Placing an incumbent leader in a productive environment is less precise.

The context of leadership can be polarizing, ambiguous, volatile and complex; so out of necessity, strong support systems must be in place. A network of colleagues to model the way and offer reassurance along with mentors, coaches and careful monitoring will serve as the classic challenge/support system to promote a productive transition while cultivating new leaders.

New Leaders Must Shift in Five Broad Areas: The biggest difference to grasp for new leaders is the change in role that entails a focused shift in five broad areas:

1. Production to Outcomes: The immediate challenge for managers is to shift their thinking and operating from a “making widgets” mindset to an influencing outcomes mindset. It is inherent in the leadership process that the leader influences the outcome. As the new leader begins working with department heads and stakeholders they need to be operating from a new perspective, a long-term view with idea of short-term, stepping stone implementation. The role of the leader is to influence the long-term with organizational strategy in mind.

Rather than making and counting widgets, a new leader must have both eyes toward efficiencies now and necessary adaptations toward the future.

2. Specialist to Visionary: Managers thrive as specialists. They know their department, their people, and their function. That’s not enough for a leader. Leaders must know the language of all departments. They must be able to translate information, patterns and trends from departments into the language of efficiencies, profit and direction. The vision of the organization is up to the leadership. No one else will take the reins here. Leaders must harness what is known now with the trends they see in the telescope and provide direction. Vision can be complex and multifaceted, but nothing can beat everyone pulling in the same direction. This is one big advantage that is difficult for competitors to duplicate.

3. From One to All: Managers have the responsibility to manage the day-to-day on the floor. They are embedded with the staff. Leaders don’t manage things as much as they lead direction. Whereas a manager focuses on employee engagement, a leader has a focus of workforce engagement.

A new leader may have lingering “departmental biases” that show up as baggage that slows meetings and other processes down. The classic mistake is for new leaders to over-manage and under-lead, especially their previous function. Colleagues need to give the new leader their patience while he cultivates an open-minded shift from managing one department to serving all departments in the organization.

4. Solving Problems to Seeing Problems Before They Develop: Strictly speaking, managers and leaders are keen problem solvers. But one of the finer points of leadership—and where leaders earn their keep—is seeing problems before they happen. If a leader can identify slowed growth or a decline in earnings early on and proactively put things in place to avoid the dreaded “workforce planning,” this “seeing” can save everyone.

5. Worker to Learner: Leadership is not about knowing—it’s about learning. New leaders typify the shift from a working manager to a learning leader. As they work to cultivate an open mind and flexibility, they must also demonstrate a commitment to relentless self-improvement—that means applying continuous learning toward competency, excellence and greatness.

When new developing leaders are hand selected, cultivated and afforded the organizational backing necessary for success, it’s more than an exercise in succession. It’s a testament to a leadership strategy and the state-of-the-art demonstration of a leadership culture. Over time the effort builds into the ultimate competitive advantage.

Brian Braudis is a highly sought-after human potential expert, certified coach, speaker and author of High Impact Leadership: 10 Action Strategies for Your Ascent. He has also authored several audio programs from executive leadership development to stress management. Brian believes “leadership” is a verb not a title. Brian’s passionate and inspiring presentations are based on the foundation that regardless of your position or role everyone is a leader. For more information on Brian Braudis, please visit: www.TheBraudisGroup.com.

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Why Training Means a Lot to Millennials

By Evan Hackel

Evan HackelWhen baby boomers took their first “real” jobs upon entering the workforce, their demands and expectations were ridiculously low by today’s standards. On their first day on the job they got an employee handbook that they took home and scanned while eating dinner or watching TV. Company training, if there was any, was minimal.

For the most part, they accepted the idea that it was normal to feel ignorant and unskilled in the first weeks or months on a new job. They expected to “learn the ropes” by making mistakes.

When it came to promotions, most boomers were equally willing to proceed by trial and error. Nobody told them, “Here is just what you need to do to get ahead in our company . . . here is the next position we’ll be considering you for.” One day in the hazy future, they hoped that their bosses would call them in and say, “We just gave you a promotion . . . you may leave early and take the family to dinner to celebrate.”

Was there feedback? Of course, there was. There were quarterly, semiannual, or yearly job reviews that usually followed the script, “Here’s what you’ve been doing wrong, here’s where you need to improve—so do it, session over.”

In short, many baby boomers were happy to toil away in black boxes, learning jobs and building careers in a loose way that would seem absurd to the members of today’s younger millennial workforce. Training is the place to build millennial productivity and retention. Click To Tweet

Millennials Have Far Different Expectations and Demands: Boy, have things changed. Today, most millennial workers would object strenuously to the same kind of conditions that baby boomers (and members of the generation that preceded them) thought were normal. If today’s millennials start new jobs and discover conditions like those in a new workplace, they are going to start looking for new jobs in a matter of hours.

Ample research documents that millennial attitudes are different. One major study from Gallup, “How Millennials Want to Work and Live,” reports these findings:

  • 60 percent of millennials say that the opportunity to learn and grow on the job is extremely important. In contrast, only 40 percent of baby boomers feel the same way.
  • 50 percent of millennials strongly agree that they plan to remain in their jobs for at least the next year. That might sound like a big percentage, but 60 percent of members of all other groups plan to stay in place for at least a year. Baby boomers and others are planning on sticking around, while millennials are weighing their options.

Learning and Training Are Key to Retaining Millennials and Maximizing their Productivity: Findings like those—and you can easily find more—document that millennial are more likely to be engaged and to stay on their jobs if they have opportunities to plan their career paths and learn.

Here are the trends:

  • Millennials like to feel capable and confident in their jobs. Millennials do not like to feel like rookies. Many think of themselves as leaders—or as leaders who are waiting to be discovered. They want to look good, and thrive on being able to confidently contribute from the first day they arrive on the job. The right kind of training—both for new and current millennial employees—makes that happen.
  • Millennials are usually skilled students. They like to apply the learning skills they built while they were in school. To them, learning feels as natural as eating three meals a day. As the Gallup study found, they are eager to learn. In contrast, getting baby boomers to believe in training can be a harder sell. They tend to view training as a burden, something they have to endure. Millennials say, “Wow, when can I start?”
  • Millennials are tech-friendly. Most of them love to be trained on their mobile phones and tablets, which are the most powerful training options available to many companies today. The result is better knowledge transfer, even to groups of employees who work in multiple or far-flung locations. Baby boomers, in contrast, are more tech-resistant. They are likely to freeze and resist when they hear they are going to be taking company training on their smartphones.

Training Is the Place to Build Millennial Productivity and Retention: A lot of training focuses on teaching needed skills. It should. But training can accomplish a lot more than that, if you use it to establish some of the following things that many millennials are looking for:

  • Mentoring relationships with their supervisors. Gallup found that 60 percent of millennials feel that the quality of the people who manage them is extremely important. With that in mind, your training for new employees can set up mentoring, not reporting, relationships between them and their managers. Explain how often check-ins and job reviews with their managers will happen, and what they will cover. And schedule frequent check-in rather than “on the calendar” pro-forma reviews that both managers and the people they manage find boring, or worse.
  • A sense of belonging on an energized and innovative team. This is a bit of a contradiction, but at the same time millennials think of themselves as individualist entrepreneurs, they also expect to be part of an interesting team. Letting millennials get to know their teammates during training, and fostering a sense of team/group identity, can help convince them that they have joined the right organization.
  • A well-defined career path. Consider creating a personalized career development plan for all new employees (the exception being seasonal or other short-term workers who will probably not remain with your company for long). Another idea? Enroll new employees in management training programs from their first days on the job. In retail, for example, you can enroll them in training that will enable them to manage their own stores in two years, or after another stated period. Millennials like to know their next steps as they build their careers, and training is a fine place to explain them.

Yes, training is important to millennials. They are the most energized, skilled and capable generation ever to enter the workforce. Train them well and they will become your organization’s brightest future.

Evan Hackel is CEO of Tortal Training, a firm that specializes in developing and implementing interactive training solutions for companies in all sectors. Evan created the concept of Ingaged Leadership and is Principal and Founder of Ingage Consulting, a consulting firm headquartered in Woburn, Massachusetts. To learn more about Ingage Consulting and Evan’s book Ingaging Leadership, visit Ingage.net.

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Why Leaders Avoid Their #1 Responsibility

By Dr. Marcia Reynolds

I walked in the room as a well-known tech leader was addressing an audience of HR professionals. He paused for effect as he said, “The most important need for leaders today…” I quickly sat down with pen in hand. He continued, “…is to hold meaningful one-on-one conversations with their employees.”

Wasn’t this the message I was asked to deliver over thirty years ago when I taught my first management training class? His facts confirmed the ongoing abysmal state of employee engagement. Leaders continue to avoid solving this problem even though it should be their number one responsibility.

Leaders avoid one-on-one conversations because humans are unpredictable and messy. Most people prioritize what they are good at, leaving the difficult tasks at the bottom of the list. Therefore, leaders avoid having conversations that may turn out badly. 

Humans are emotional by nature. Everything seen, heard, felt, touched, and smelled is processed through two emotional centers of the brain before the logical center is engaged. People need to know it’s okay to be themselves no matter what they are experiencing, without worrying about being negatively judged. What leaders avoidemotional expressionis their best chance to connect with employees.

Emotions aren’t bad; they are reactions to stimuli. They reflect energy moving through the body. Acknowledging emotions in a conversation can lead to discovering important information needed to breakthrough blocks, make good decisions, and take a positive step forward.

Leaders avoid, fix, and tolerate: If you weren’t raised to talk about emotions, you probably don’t know how to respond to them when they show up. You might tense up, check out, give an unsolicited suggestion, or impatiently wait for the person to get over it and move on.

Most leaders rationalize their avoidance by saying things like, “If I encourage people to talk about their feelings, I will say things I wouldn’t normally say.” Or, “I don’t have time for their dramas.” The business world is full of aphorisms that declare, “Only the tough survive.”

Being uncomfortable with expressions of emotions doesn’t make you bad. Your discomfort is an indication that you haven’t had enough training to develop your skills. When you learn how to use the power of sensory awareness-to feel deeply and empathize with others-you are more capable of making a difference.

Understanding how emotions affect decisions and behavior makes you wise.Creating a safe space to talk about emotions makes you strong. Leaders who develop the skills of emotional intelligence can have meaningful conversations that increase engagement, innovation, and results.6 tips for what to do when emotions arise during difficult conversations. Click To Tweet

Appreciation opens the door to transformation: Staying alert to what you are feeling or receiving from others can be scary and even painful. Here are six tips for what to do when emotions arise during difficult conversations:

  1. Take a breath, release your tension, and be quiet. Give people a moment to recoup so they don’t feel badly for reacting.
  1. Allow their reaction to happen. They might apologize or give excuses.Tell them you understand why they are reacting so they feel normal instead of inadequate.
  1. Don’t try to “fix” the person or make suggestions unless they beg you.Even then, if the person is smart and resourceful, it is better to ask questions to learn more about their situation. This will help them think things through more rationally.
  1. If they get defensive, don’t fuel the fire. Don’t get angry or disengage. Whether they are mad at you or others, give them a moment to vent to release the steam.
  1. If they are afraid, ask what consequences they fear and listen to their answer. Don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel afraid. Encourage them to speak by asking a few questions that show you are curious and you care. What are they afraid they will lose, based on the situation? What else could happen? What would they like you to do to support them through the change? Listen with curiosity, care, and compassion. The conversation will help them discover what assumptions they have about the future, opening the door to seeing what else is possible.
  1. Before you end the conversation, ask them to articulate what they discovered or learned. Articulating insights helps people feel stronger. Identifying what they are learning gives them a sense of control. If the emotions don’t subside, you might ask for another meeting when the person can more comfortably look at solutions with you.

Humans are emotional beings. If you judge or avoid their reactions, you are judging or avoiding them as humans. That never feels good. Being a leader means you can sort things out together no matter what they feel. See the person in front of you as doing his or her best with what they know now. From this perspective, you might have an amazing conversation that could surprise the both of you.

Dr. Marcia Reynolds uses passion and humor to demonstrate the power of holding Deep Leap Conversations that transform connections and cultures, especially when emotions have taken the wheel. Visit her website https://outsmartyourbrain.com/ to learn how you can work with her, download her free e-book, “How to Have the Conversation You Have Been Avoiding,” and check out her published books, Outsmart Your Brain, Wander Woman, and The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs.

7 Secrets That Increase Your Leadership Impact

By Brian Braudis

 A major concern for senior executives is “bench strength”—that is, the quantity and quality of up-and-coming, potential leaders who are in the pipeline. The problem is that too often these would-be leaders “hold back, shrink and play small.” One CEO recently said, “The potential leaders in our pipeline need to show up, step up, and increase their leadership impact.”

True. An organization is only as strong as its leadership.

In today’s climate of unprecedented change, intense competition and more demanding customers, leaders can’t hold back or shrink. Team members need leadership to model the way because all they see in this modern-day complexity is uncertainty and that leads to anxiety. Team members are looking to leadership for certainty, definitive guidance, vision and a solid commitment. This is an opportunity for leadership impact.

Here Are 7 Secrets to Increase Your Leadership Impact:

1. Shift the Energy of Your Team: With composure, increase and elevate your communications. Share your higher perspective and calm the anxiety with your increased presence and obvious commitment. Neutralize the teardown effect of uncertainty and anxiety. Shift the energy of your team toward purpose. You can’t just remove the deconstructive nature of negativity without replacing it with something. Use purpose to drive the conversation. Strategically use each day to keep your organizational purpose in front of your team members. Talk about your mission. Get them excited about growing and serving your clients, customers and stakeholders. Share the growth you see and the future you envision. When your team has a growth mindset it’s only natural that your organization will grow.

There will always be uncertainty but when you demonstrate resolute certainty in your commitment to your team, anxiety drops, morale increases, team members take note and follow your lead. An organization is only as strong as its leadership. Click To Tweet

2. Collaborate: Bigger results come from bigger efforts. Instill collaboration within divisions and across programs. Use your leadership presence to convert dissonance to connectedness, silos into solidarity, problems into innovations, risk into reward and daily efforts into a dramatically improved future. Set the behavioral norm by becoming known as the leader interested in organizational successover individual success. When you execute on a higher and larger perspective, you instantly increase leadership impact.

3. Cultivate Creativity: Open the floodgates of creativity by asking more questions. The days of one leader with all the answers are past. In all likelihood your team is bursting with new ideas. You don’t have to be Michelangelo, just ask powerful questions and be patient.—the innovation will come pouring out in the discussions. Team members are intimately familiar with problems. They simply need you to provide them the space to contemplate how today’s problems can become tomorrow’s innovations.

4. Use Influence Not Power: No one likes a pompous leader. Rather than relying on the shortsighted and limiting power of position, reap the long-term benefits that come from building trust and influence. If you use power, good people will leave you and other people will get you.

When you rely on the external power of your leadership position you not only expose weakness in yourself, you build weakness in others by forcing them to acquiesce, stifling their growth and the potential for their unique contribution. Ultimately, the entire relationship is weakened. Defensiveness ensues, low trust follows and potential for cooperation is lost—smothered by negative emotion. Fight the imprudent impulse to command, and direct and invest in the higher, more refined skills of finesse, influence and persuasion.

Patience, finesse, influence and persuasion are the building blocks of increased impact.

5. Promote Daily Progress: Leaders are only deemed successful if they get results and they get those results through working with people. The only way people do great things is by focusing on their strengths and possibilities. Leaders set the stage for this focus.

On any given day your team’s efforts will be influenced by a mix of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that can either pull them to higher performance or drag them down. Setbacks can send team spirit spiraling downward to the point where frustration and disgust take over.

Leaders have tremendous influence in promoting daily progress by ensuring team members have the environment they need to make steady progress and maintain momentum. Avoid the toxicity of high pressure, punitive and judgmental measures that constrain momentum.

Rather, set clear goals for meaningful work. Provide autonomy and promote ownership of the outcomes. Nourish your team’s efforts through affiliation, showing respect, words of encouragement and minimizing daily hassles.

6. Build a Body of Behavior: Be more of a model than a critic. Eschew the all-too-common “Killer Cs” that will keep you in the weakness of victim mode. Negativity will rob you of energy, initiative and impact.

Avoid These Killer Cs

  • Criticizing
  • Complaining
  • Competing
  • Comparing
  • Colluding
  • Contending

Don’t criticize. Talk about what went well. Show your team what is possible. Add energy to the context. Be consistent. Your team is faced with being productive in spite of problems and hassles. When they know that they can consistently count on you for support and direction, momentum skyrockets.

7. Focus on What is Right, Not Who is Right: Team members rely on leaders to create an environment that is impartial, where everyone has the same opportunities that are based on merit. Don’t take sides. Use conflict to demonstrate your commitment to organizational success. Model a higher perspective that lifts others from their petty preoccupations and carries them above the fray. Be a stronghold trailblazer that guides the upward purpose of your team.

The unique and distinct actions of a leader create ripples that increase and spread delivering ever-increasing impact that can be felt within and among teams. The greatest impact however, is felt industry-wide as a unique and distinct competitive advantage that is difficult, if not impossible for others to duplicate. When you employ these seven secrets and increase your leadership impact, you set up your entire team for success.

Brian Braudis is a highly sought-after human potential expert, certified coach, speaker and author of High Impact Leadership: 10 Action Strategies for Your Ascent. He has also authored several audio programs from executive leadership development to stress management. Brian believes “leadership” is a verb not a title. Brian’s passionate and inspiring presentations are based on the foundation that regardless of your position or role everyone is a leader. For more information on Brian Braudis, please visit: www.TheBraudisGroup.com

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