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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Dean Harbry’s Leadership Influence Blog

Innovation in the Workplace

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Business leaders know and believe that innovation is the secret sauce for company growth. It inspires product development, facilitates strong employee satisfaction, drives efficiencies and provides a sound culture making it desirable for one to work and invest their time and talent. Yet, the greatest impediment to innovation is the organizational leader and the resulting culture. No-one would intentionally thwart other’s contributions, but most organizational leaders unknowingly extinguish the flames of creativity through amateur managerial practices.

Imagine telling an artist what she must paint, and exactly how it should be done. What if, when putting paint on her brush, she’s directed on how to make each stroke and then corrected when she paints in a style or direction that’s unconventional? What’s the likelihood that the end product will be a true masterpiece of great value? Too many cooks in the kitchen. One may be able to sell such a picture in the marketplace, but it’s not likely it will ever make it to the Louvre. For an artist to truly innovate, she must be free to use her own imagination, while connecting the thoughts and images in her mind, and in her surroundings, to the brush that’s in her hand.

It’s true that effective leadership requires a level of control, but there are wholesome and unwholesome ways to govern—ones that inspire and promote individual contribution and creativity, and others that strike a deadly blow to the heart of innovation. Consider the following principles to create a sanctuary for innovation in the workplace:

The first and most important principle is to stop doing other’s thinking for them. It’s impossible to cultivate innovation under the direction of a micromanager. Micromanagement is a corporate evil that robs others of originality and creativity, and ultimately truncates managerial leverage. From a human incentive standpoint, those who are denied the opportunity to use their own faculties to create and innovate will lose heart, bringing employee engagement to a grinding halt. People will retreat to vicious compliance—a condition where one turns off his or her own judgment and does exactly what the boss says, even though there are known negative consequences. The best source of good judgment in decision-making usually comes from those who are closest to the work. In contrast, professional managers lead with discovery-based questions rather than simply telling people what to do. They maintain control by assigning discreet levels of freedom.

Second, innovation has to be mined out of staff members which can only occur in a safe environment. Professional managerial leaders provide laboratories for their people to experiment and refine their thinking. They will look at mistakes as opportunities for learning rather than sins to avoid. New ideas must be treated with deliberate and intense curiosity rather than viewing them as anomalies to current conventions or norms. Yet, this way of “seeing” is very different than the ordinary, corporate way of life. Absent this foundational view, innovation is unlikely, leaving us to some form of process improvement that helps us to get better, but never allows us to be great.

Professional principles and techniques are rarely intuitive in nature, even though they make sense in the mind. Converting beliefs to actual behaviors is the hallmark of a true professional, yet few make this leap. Here’s how you can tell, at a quick glance, if your organization is poised for innovation.

Are your people happy, and do they love working at your firm?

Are new ideas welcomed and celebrated, even if they go against conventional norms?

Do you celebrate advances in innovations and truly incentivize people to take risks?

Is curiosity (the opposite of being judgmental) an operating, cultural value?

When things go wrong, do you work to solve problems or resort to finding culprits?

Coaching questions: How would you rate yourself at promoting innovation? What steps can you take to improve, maximizing human incentives, to foster needed creativity? Write your answers in your journal.

Gaining Freedom from the Boss

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

As most everyone would acclaim, it’s hard to work for a micromanaging boss—one who will not allow his people grow in judgment and decision-making as a result of maintaining tight control. What’s funny about this ailment is that we usually do the same thing to the people who report to us. But, somehow, that’s different. We rationalize our own behavior in the name of maintaining quality. Yet, when we experience the same from our boss, it seems downright unjust. Welcome to humanity. If we could just convert the learning of our own experiences to how we manage others we would do ourselves a professional favor and receive more career benefit than had we earned an MBA. The good news is that when we are being micromanaged we have a path we can follow that will enable us to gain freedom from our boss. My mentor used to say that he liked working for a difficult boss, because to him it became somewhat of a sport to gain his freedom.

There is one overarching reason why a boss will micromanage. On the surface it looks like he simply wants things done his way, but the real reason is internal—he is anxious. He is responding to internal urges that won’t allow him to let it go, for fear of adverse consequences. Embedded in this dilemma is an amateur’s inability to delegate to others using the time-tested principles that create his thinking and judgment in others—the protocol that brings true empowerment and managerial leverage. True management is, after all, a professional activity, a discipline. Micromanaging is the quick (so people believe), next best option that requires the least amount of time and intentional work to develop staff. It’s a downward spiral. So the question becomes, are those of us who are being micromanaged doomed to be everlasting victims of our bosses’ amateur behavior? As hinted above, no, there are things we can do to win our freedom.

To gain freedom from the boss, we must first understand his anxieties and begin there. Anxiety levels exist for a good reason in organizational professionals; it keeps them focused and accountable to deliver hoped-for results. It prevents them from being hap-hazard about organizational life. Consider the following principles and steps to gain freedom.

– We must put ourselves in his shoes. Only when we see organizational issues through his eyes and experience, can we have an appreciation for the pressures, quandaries and ambiguities he faces. This exercise builds knowledge and empathy in us, and aids us in developing an owner mindset. We then leverage the acquired insights and judgments to help us in the next step.

– We must be an anticipatory follower. If we want to win at hockey, we know we must never skate to where the puck is, at its current location. We must move to where the puck is going to be and get there ahead of time. Being an anticipatory follower means that we study our boss’s every move, analyzing his or her buying habits, and because we’ve already put ourselves in their shoes, we do the thinking before they’ve had the chance, and we get there ahead of them. This move sets us up for the next step.

– We must make recommendations. If we are “ask what to do,” or “waiting to be told,” kind of people, our boss’s hearts will sink when we walk into their offices. Young adults shouldn’t have to be spoon-fed like babies. Yet, having put ourselves in his shoes and having applied the learning garnered by being an anticipatory follower, we make recommendations that are at his level and give him the gift of time by solving some of his problems. What a nice perk to have an employee like this!

If we apply the above principles our boss will get more comfortable with us and trust us more, because we’ve demonstrated that we have enough smarts to do it right. What actually happens is that we drive down his anxiety level, and gain our freedom. This is not something that happens in a day’s time. By applying the steps consistently over time we are a more trusted resource.

The benefit of being a professional manager (versus an amateur) is that it’s not left up to the staff member to figure all this out—as professionals we take proactive steps to deliberately cultivate our thinking and judgments into our staff, and developing them into ones with an owner mindset more deliberately. Thankfully, if professional protocols are not being applied, as a direct report we still have a way to make it happen.

Coaching questions: What steps can you take to “get into your boss’s world” and see your work through his eyes? How can you then convert that knowledge to become an anticipatory follower? Write your answers in your journal.

What Does it Mean to be a Professional?

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

As organizational leaders, we want employees with an owner mindset (able to see big picture, company issues through the eyes of the CEO) combined with innovation and creativity to create a high performing team. We dream of having people like this who will join us to make a dramatic difference through their contributions. When we find someone who we think fits the profile, we’ll hire them even if we don’t have an open position at the time. Yet, when we get to know them better, we realize that they are hopelessly just like the rest of the crew. So what happened? Are they just all good actors and know how to interview well, or is there something else that inevitably leads to lagging performance? The answer is usually found in the leader’s style and behaviors.

Professional leaders are ones who utilize a set of uncommon skills that stand out when compared to others. We use the word “professional” because this role requires a greater level of discipline, persistence and hard work than what the average person is willing to do. I may be a good golfer, but to be a professional golfer requires so much more. Even well-known athletes, and seemingly the most accomplished, continue to work hard, practice to improve, and use coaches to make them better. If we think we are good leaders, and yet don’t see the kind of performance we would like in our employees, causing us to resort to lord-it-over or command-and-control tactics, then this is evidence that we have yet to arrive, requiring more hard work to be truly professional. We’re amateurs. We begin to improve by working on the basics.

The basics to improve as a professional leader:

– Developing strong influence skills that help others to think it before you have to say it. If you are correcting your employee’s work after they’ve put long, hard hours into the process, then you are likely crushing innovation and creativity, and creating malaise in the ranks. Wholesome influence creates managerial leverage.

– Taking deliberate steps to develop your people. Having a wholesome development mindset toward your employees will likely produce in a systematic, professional delegation process that addresses decision-making limits and provides for succession planning. As my old boss would say, If you can’t leave work for two weeks without your employees needing you, something’s wrong. Build their competencies, not just your own.

– Making it about them, and not about you. If you regularly experience disturbing emotions when things go wrong, you are likely making it about you and not about them. Learn to ask the question, “What do they need right now?” and be prepared to do whatever your answer suggests. Oftentimes this means denying self and forfeiting the luxury of being mad, upset, or to take over out of anger. Use other’s mistakes as laboratories of learning, and be kind.

Each one of the above-mentioned disciplines has an array of “workout routines” required to build the needed muscle and become a true professional. After reading Geoff Colvin’s book, “Talent is Overrated,” I am even more convinced that we can all make substantial progress to becoming a professional leader, if we just give it the attention and hard work it requires. Let’s remember that professional leadership behaviors are counterintuitive in nature—doing what comes natural just won’t cut it when it comes to leading others.

Coaching questions: What regimen have you applied to cultivate more professional leadership skills? What steps can you take to “stay in shape”? Write your answers in your journal.

Developing Unrealized Potential in Your Staff

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

I remember attending a workshop for managers presented by Stephen Covey when he asked the question “At what level are your staff resources being utilized?” He directed people to raise their hands if it was 95%, 80% and so on. Sadly, of the 800 plus people in attendance, very few could claim any substantial use of these resources. Covey made his point. It emphasized to me that really no-one (statistically speaking) believes that they are exploiting (in the good sense) the talents and possible contributions of their people. The tragedy here is that this is a lose-lose situation. People long to be a part of something that is significant, and companies want highly performing teams that produce results. This combination is not so common. I left wondering if it were really possible to attain such a lofty goal.

My study of the humanities over the years has convinced me that it is possible, when we both understand and know how to truly incent human beings, and actually put it into practice. The principles are actually very simple, yet it’s hard to obtain. Why? It’s because truth is apparent, but it’s not intuitive. I liken the task to be somewhat similar to training a Golden Retriever. When training a dog, you have to use positive incentives and stimulus that reinforces good behavior. If you want him to sit by the door and use your back yard for his bathroom, it will not help to beat him with a rolled up newspaper until he gets it right. One has to be patient, use treats and encouragement, to convert the animal into man’s best friend. People are much the same—they do not respond to, or appreciate being shamed, guilted or punished to perform well. If we can see clearly how it works in the animal world, then why is it so hard to do with humans?

The fact is, there are some professional practices and techniques that really work. After we adopted Bailey, our Golden Retriever, I took him to an obedience class and learned from the experts how to turn this beast into one of the most obedient and pleasant household pets. I could not have done it on my own. What I was taught made sense, but actually putting the principles into practice was tough. To truly develop the unrealized potential of our staff, we must, as managers, use the following incentives:

– Make them think. We call them out through discovery-based probing, by asking questions of them rather than giving them answers. It’s just like a college test. If we know we have to pass the test to graduate, we will study the material. No test I’ve ever taken began by giving me the answers. Telling bosses must convert their knowledge base into curious questioning that makes the staff member think. Once the manager finds good thinking, he must give that person a reward. It’s called encouragement.

– Create a career path. True delegation is a staff development system. We should delegate primarily to develop the unrealized potential in our staff, versus working to just get stuff off our plates. The best way to do this is to employ levels of freedom for tasks we want to transition, then use the questioning process above to cultivate good judgment in them, which will translate into good decisions through repetition. Using a professional roles and responsibilities process works like a charm.

– Provide stretch assignments. Using the battery of wholesome human incentives, as in athletic training, we build muscle and competency at one level, then “push” them to go further. When I first started to run as a way to stay healthy, I never imagined I could actually complete a marathon. Twenty two races later, I’ve learned to love the 26.2 course, and find it somewhat normal. We can all do much more than we think we can. We need a good coach (professional manager) to believe in us and encourage us along the way. It’s a process of cultivation that involves patience, time, and hard work. Only, they (our staff) have to do the hard work—the thinking, making judgments and the actual performing.

As mentioned above, to grow in academic prowess, as students we are provided materials (classroom training and books), but when it comes to applying that knowledge, we face tests. To review: the “tests” we provide our staff are in managerial questioning in the delegation and stretch request process—it develops unrealized potential. To short circuit that process, frustrate both boss and employee, and with shame hide rather than raise our hand at the next Stephen Covey like management seminar, just be a telling boss. High performing teams are cultivated over time; it’s a process that involves professional management skills and techniques focused on known human incentives. Does it make sense? Yes. Is it easy? No.

Coaching questions: Where might you being employing the “newspaper” therapy with your staff? How might you better incent them to be happy, loyal, performing employees? Write your answers in your journal.

The Way We See Our Employees Matters

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

The way we see people in the workplace creates a filter that guides our working relationships with them. This is where most companies face difficulty because they state what they hold out as an ideal through core values, yet in actuality behave very differently based on the internal convictions of the company’s leaders. We tend to espouse the right principles and have a sense about how we should think and act, but family of origin, personal beliefs and personal preferences trump these good intentions. The truth is that most companies rarely do what they say when comparing their behaviors to their values. The corporate community will clearly see this mismatch as hypocrisy, creating a sense of resignation resulting in a morale deficit. It’s all too easy to dismiss other’s concerns as mere complaints and judge them for not being whole. I remember working with a company that insisted they had it right—yet, their turnover rate spoke loudly about their inability to create the right human incentives.

At the root of this dilemma is how we actually see our employees. If we, for example, view them as utilities we will have a very legal and authoritarian way of relating to them. If we see them as valuable human beings, contributors and partners in a process to create growth and results, then we’ll respect them for who they are, not just what they do, and develop stronger bonds. Cultural beliefs that indicate a need for change are those that fail to address true wholesome, human incentive systems. If, for example, a leader’s mindset is rooted in gender or ethnic bias, they will surely exclude those who are not like them and unknowingly mentor others (who are exactly like them) to do the same. We would never admit to such biases, usually because we are unaware, but they will lurk in the subconscious and manifest themselves in our corporate communities unless we dig deep and honestly evaluate ourselves and our culture.

Daniel Goleman, in his book “Primal Leadership,” writes about a condition he calls “CEO Disease.” CEO Disease exists when organizational leaders are cut off from true and candid feedback from those around them due to their position and title, and usually supported by a leader’s unspoken desire to receive only positive feedback. Under these circumstances, leaders will likely fail to receive the type of input that helps them to grow and improve, and it will prevent the organization from cultivating virtue and respect. No single person or organization has “arrived.” We are all on a journey of continual improvement.

Below are some ways to discover how we are seeing your employees:

– Ask those around you, “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?” If our gestures and messages are telling them “give me the answer I want to hear,” we’ll continue to suffer with CEO Disease. If we are sincere and have promoted a safe environment, seeking genuine and authentic feedback, then we’ll get the honest truth.

– Reflect on what makes you uncomfortable. Areas of discomfort can point to an unrealized bias. If, for example, a leader only connects with the men or only with the women in the firm, chances are there is some sort of barrier or gender bias. The same principle could apply to ethnicity, pedigree, or various other mindsets. Once you determine your uncomfortable feelings, process them with a trusted resource to ensure they are not impacting relationships.

– Develop a feedback council. This is a collection of a few peers and some direct reports where we create an alliance to provide ongoing feedback in a safe environment. We should meet with them monthly as a group, but then ask them to provide personal feedback, real time, on our performance. It can be transformational for a leader who has a humble heart.

Some may say, why go to all this fuss—nobody is perfect and this is all soft stuff that’s hard to measure. Yet, if we truly want high performing teams, we’ll do the work necessary to create a productive environment, eliminating barriers to execution, which are usually rooted in culture and personal human experiences. And, beyond that we know whatever happens at work, we take home. The responsibility to create a good, wholesome workplace environment rests squarely on the shoulders of the organization’s leaders. The rewards of paying attention to the culture in this way include a sense of belonging for its people, a word on the street that says this is a good place to work, and a public image that attracts clients. It also creates a sense of accomplishment when one realizes that the company not only provides employment opportunities and financial resources for its people to live life, but also meets the social and educational needs around teamwork and sacrifice, and is literally a feeder system for what happens in the home.

Using Gestures to Support Your Message

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Experts tell us that 80% of communication is nonverbal in nature. Have you ever said something to someone else only to have them respond in disbelief? If you are trying to convince your friends that most politicians can be trusted and you don’t really believe it yourself, then chances are your claim will fall on deaf ears. It’s likely that the signals you are emitting from your facial expressions and body language are not congruent with your words. To improve in our communication with others we need to become, as Daniel Goleman says, more emotionally self-aware. We will dig deep to know our own thinking and feeling, and then we’ll craft language around those beliefs in the form of a genuine statement. We become more trusted and believable only when we are truly authentic. If we have jobs that require influence skills, then paying attention to these signals is a must.

First, let’s be clear about the distinction between influence and manipulation to ensure we are on the same page. Influence is the healthy side of control, where we are trying to get others to do or believe something different, but it’s in their best interest. Manipulation, on the other hand, is the dark side of control that lures people into doing or believing something, at their expense, to get something for me. Influence is others-centered, while manipulation is self-centered. In leadership and management, we often fail at the influence process because others feel manipulated, even when our attempts to get them to change are rooted in good intentions. Method trumps message 100% of the time. If we want to be skilled influencers then we’ll be deliberate about our methods (not only our words, but our gestures as well) to make sure that what we are saying is believable and in other’s best interest.

Let’s start with the simple stuff. If we say “Good morning” to our staff as we are walking to our office, but our eyes are looking at the floor, our walk is brisk, and our lips are tight, what message are we really sending? Many possibilities exist, but what most staff members will hear is, “I’m doing what’s courteous, but don’t stop me because I have too much to do–get on with your work.” A better approach would be to look at our people in the eyes, and with a smile on our face communicate that we are happy to see them. It takes no more time but has the power to build stronger workplace relationships where trust and respect can grow. If you know that someone really likes you, how apt are you to like and serve them in return? The power of affirmation, supported by consistent body language, builds rapport.

Some managers at this stage would say that they don’t come to work to play, but to work, with an underlying belief that relationships in this setting are not so important. However, human beings require human connection to produce quality results. Most people have a large capacity for relationships of all types, and, being communal in nature, strong workplace relationships are important for emotional and physical health. As stated in my last blog post, “Happiness is measured by the quality of our relationships.” And, this principle applies to introverted as well as extroverted people. As members of the human race, we all have need for clean, wholesome interaction with others. Perhaps this is why the notion that, “Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten” is so popular.

Coaching questions: What messages are you sending to those around you? How can aligning your gestures with your words improve your relationships and sharpen your influence? Write your answers in your journal.

Creating Healthy Workplace Relationships

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

When our workplace relationships are deep, characterized by a living, breathing trust, there is resonance. We experience personal peace and true rest because we don’t have to “prove” ourselves over and over again. We possess an inner knowing that all is well because we are void of the concern and pressure of being judged. This state of peace and calm enables us to produce the best of results. A sense of harmony and oneness allows us to use our emotional energy to create, innovate and take risks. I once heard someone say, “Happiness is measured by the quality of our relationships.” I really like that saying, and I actually believe it’s true. An organizational leader’s greatest responsibility is to birth and cultivate right relationships in their domain of influence.

Here’s a quick test to see how well your organization is poised to develop healthy relationships enabling hoped-for results:

Is your culture driven by curiosity? Curiosity’s strength is found in suspending judgment while probing and musing (sometimes playfully) to learn new insights and to develop better decision-making. The opposite of being curious is being judgmental. When snap judgments are made about people or circumstances, the opportunity for learning has ceased. Not only that, it puts others on the defensive, driving emotional energy toward self-preservation rather than using that same energy to achieve corporate goals. Leaders, managers and co-workers that are judgmental by nature, create a toxic culture of suspicion preventing the organic development of strong relational bonds.

Do your leaders and managers listen well? Stephen Covey stated that most people listen to know how to respond, rather than working to truly hear what others are trying to say. People who lack communication skills create barriers, frustrating their audiences with obscure messages. Yet skilled listeners will work hard to hear what others are saying, and what they are not saying, by going past presentation methods and by actively creating clarity. They will use tools like discovery-based questions, and, stating back what they’ve heard but in more succinct form. A professional, even when feeling attacked, will choose to listen to what’s coming out of the other person’s heart versus their mouth, maintain composure, and attempt to resolve the issue peacefully.

Does your organization handle mistakes in an appropriate manner? If mistakes are viewed as sins, people will hide and fail to announce adverse trends when they occur. If, rather, they are seen as opportunities to grow and gain new insights, operational learning will result and people will develop honed technical skills. The benefit is corporate maturity. If, when things go wrong, we search for culprits (versus finding solutions to problems) we are not handling mistakes well. Using shame, harsh language, and punitive judgments will de-motivate the entire workforce regardless of who is at the center of the mishap. All eyes will be on the leader’s responses and behaviors. If the same mistakes are being made over and over again, there are likely strategic issues that require managerial attention.

The bottom line is that if we want to create resonance in the workplace, we must then work hard to create strong working relationships. Humans are the same everywhere—the courtesies we extend to the people in our homes and neighborhoods, and even with our clients, are the same good manners we need to employ when dealing with our staff.

I remember a woman in my running club telling me about an experience she had with her doctor during an annual checkup. She explained that when he burst into the examination room, he said, “We have a lot more of you to look at this year!” meaning she had gained weight. She was so infuriated by his comment that she literally fired him. No matter how good he was at his craft, to her he was not a good doctor. In those moments, when we as organizational leaders create bad experiences for others, we lose influence and drain people of their emotional energy, which would otherwise be used to serve and help us. They “fire” us, even though they may still be collecting a paycheck. Attending to the principles of healthy work relationships can keep your employees, like loyal customers, in the trenches with you.

Coaching questions: How are your personal and professional relationships progressing towards trust and intimacy? Where might curiosity, listening, and assisting play a greater role to develop healthy workplace relationships? Write your answers in your journal.

Thinking and Staff Development

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

In today’s world we’re not really encouraged to think, and by that I mean to wrestle long and hard over issues that involve different mindsets, considering tradeoffs, and then arriving at specific well thought out conclusions. Rather, we are asked to adopt and accept certain belief systems and simply conform. Since Pavlov’s famous experiment with man’s best friend, humanity has become the target of social conditioning, where like food shopping, we pick our favorite brand off the shelf—a concoction that if we could only see how it was made, we would likely decide to raise it and cook it ourselves. As the late Dr. Glenn Martin from Indiana Wesleyan University would say, “Ideas have consequences.” What this means for organizational leaders is that developing today’s staff will present a very different challenge compared to other eras. Applying time-tested professional techniques are going to feel foreign, strange and even unsettling, particularly with the emerging generation.

If we want to effectively mentor and develop others then we must get them to think. Why? Good thinking yields good judgment; good judgment yields good decision-making; good decision-making yields win-win scenarios for all parties involved. It produces an owner mindset if we are careful to create a culture that supports risk-taking and innovation. Yet in juxtaposition to thinking cultures are many of today’s business environments, where we’ve followed the same protocol as the rest of society, engaging in telling platforms, communicating conformity rather than encouraging the originality and creativity that come from contemplation and having our conclusions tested by the questions and thinking of others.

If we really want to develop staff into people that can ultimately take our place, we have to engage in a more radical approach. I remember becoming aware of this truth when my boss walked into my office one day as I was standing in front of my window, staring at the outside world. He snuck up behind me and said in a pronounced voice, “Caught you!” I was so embarrassed—I knew I wasn’t really “working.” I’ll never forget his next statement… “I caught you thinking, and just so you know, that’s what I pay you to do.” He then walked out. This boss of mine is the reason I am who I am today, thanks to his ability to know the right and professional thing to do to make me a better man and a more professional manager.

Below are some keys steps to develop thinking in your staff:

• Ask Questions. A professional manager will ask discovery-based questions rather than provide answers when employees approach them with problem-solving needs. This can feel uncomfortable for staff, since it exposes their current (and usually inadequate) thinking and makes them feel vulnerable. A safe culture is a prerequisite. In school, when taking tests, we are presented with questions for which we must provide answers. We study because we know we are going to be asked difficult questions. And if we’ve studied hard enough, we’ll give the right answer. Telling bosses stunt the growth and development of their staff.

• Next Steps. To ensure an employee fully owns their job, all next steps must be placed on them. If we say to our staff, “Let me think it over and I’ll get back with you,” we’ve stumbled in our professional role. What we are really saying when this happens is, “I don’t trust your thinking, so I’m going to use my thinking until I come up with the right answer.” One of the key principles when training a soldier how to shoot is to keep the instructor’s finger off the trigger. If we hope to increase our employees’ competency over time, we need to push the thinking down, keep the problem-solving on them, and avoid doing their work.

• Insure Decision-making. It would be a disaster if, by only asking questions and assigning next steps, our employees went out like the old cartoon character Tennessee Tuxedo and acted on their half-baked ideas. We’d spend much of our time accounting to our boss, making excuses for the actions of our employees and our inability to lead. This is why I like Bill Oncken’s Freedom Scale. Depending on our anxiety level, there are certain levels of freedom we assign to employee decisions to ensure sound actions. If we don’t like their ideas, rather than give them the answer, we find the next best question to ask to help them see the bigger picture.

I know what you are thinking. All this sounds great but it takes too much time. And, time it does take. But, like a good financial investment, it means delaying current gratification for long-term gain. The truth is, for a telling boss, he or she will spend most of their time answering the same questions over and over again, which is a waste of time. By applying these principles on the front end of staff development, we’ll produce people who will ultimately think and judge the same way we do. If you want your staff to improve in their judgments and decision-making, then you must cultivate your thinking in them. This same process works well with teenage children, by the way.

Coaching questions: When your employees seek your direction or some version of problem-solving, how do you usually respond? How can you take steps to make sure your thinking is being developed in them, so that they can ultimately replace you in a succession process? Write your answers in your journal.

Developing Managerial Leaders

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Leadership is indeed a very tangible and precise profession—a career that takes out-of-the-ordinary discipline and skill to achieve hoped-for results, while ensuring the active support of others. I often compare this role to that of a surgeon. Imagine if you went through medical school, completed all the study, and then for the first time once the sheet was pulled back, someone handed you a scalpel and said, “Cut him open.” It’s counterintuitive behavior because our mothers taught us not to poke people with sharp objects. Yet, once a surgeon has gained skill in making incisions, they can do it in their sleep because it has become second nature. The same principle is true regarding managerial leadership. And, without the discipline and rigor of others-centeredness, including professional management skills, we are sure to hurt and harm those we lead, rather than being the healers we were meant to be as leaders.

So what is it about authentic leadership that goes against the grain? First, as stated above, it requires that we make it about our staff and not about us. Those who are self-centered and constantly irritated with others’ behavior are really in it for themselves. They lack virtue, will invariably impact those around them in a negative way, and fail to execute well as a leader. Second, it requires honed professional management skills, which is a wholesome form of influence rooted in a deep understanding of humanity. The combination of these two qualities will help a burgeoning manager become a true professional over time, if he or she can maintain the disciplines of these two principles. No wonder we have such a difficult time finding the right person to manage others.

What usually happens is that we promote someone to management because they are the best at their craft. Unknowingly, we’ve just given them a whole new job for which there has been little training and usually no laboratory preparation. They may have good rapport with their peers prior to promotion, but most have yet to go through the real rigors of counterintuitive behavior, particularly with difficult employees. Who among us would feel comfortable using a surgeon who trained himself by practicing on his dog and little sister? The only real way to grow effective managerial leaders is to mentor and manage them in the disciplines of the profession. To develop true, authentic leaders, as mentoring managers we must focus on three specific areas:

• Knowledge (intellectual, IQ): they must have and develop further their understanding of humanity and true human incentive systems. For example: most people would say they don’t like to be told what to do. How then does a professional manager gain followers’ active support and achieve hoped-for results without being a telling boss? The answer lies in the professional management skill of discovery-based questioning.

• Influence (emotional, EQ ): in order to make it about them, he or she must have influence skills that are rooted in emotional intelligence, with a focus on empathy and emotional self-awareness. How do you instill EQ in those you are developing? By managing their behaviors using your own knowledge of human incentives along with the art of discovery-based questioning to maintain accountabilities.

• Behavior (social): unless a person’s values and beliefs are converted to actual behaviors, they will be seen as hypocrites and never gain the respect or active support of their staff. Good behavior in a new manager is not something that should be assumed. It has to be deliberately cultivated by the one who manages him. How does this happen? By providing direct feedback without creating make-wrongs. That is, using wholesome influence skills, tell the truth and demand more without creating a personal disconnect.

This all sounds like a tough job. And, it is. But, it’s what’s required to be a true, professional, managerial leader. It demands a rigor that most people would shun because of the time, discipline and sacrifice required. Anything less is a hobby, and who wants to subject themselves to an amateur, when, like a surgeon, it involves very serious health issues. I admire people who understand this principle and turn down a promotion to management because they don’t feel they have the competency to truly lead. In the end, given a little time, these are the ones you want to spend your time developing as a next generation leader.

Coaching questions: What process have you employed to be a true professional yourself? How can you now use this background to cultivate and develop the next generation of leaders? Write your answer in your journal.

Dealing with Difficult People

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

What choices do people make when dealing with difficult people? Most of us will simply stuff it because we don’t like to deal with conflict, or else we’ll strike back with force and emotion. It may depend on who we are dealing with. We may not risk it with the boss or peers, due to some element of fear or discomfort, but then unload on others. Depending on the intensity of the transaction, we’ll then go home with a troubled disposition and infect our families with our ill emotions. Whatever happens at work, we take home. This is why organizational leaders must deliberately attend to the business culture, to ensure that both wholesome relationships and teamwork are being properly cultivated.

So, how do we address the difficult person with their frequent challenges? It starts by anticipating and planning for these inevitable events. We are taken off guard only when we have improper expectations and lack of preparation. Sound relationships will always be the biggest challenge in the workplace, therefore developing clear communication skills will be most important. Daniel Goleman, in his writings on emotional intelligence, describes the need for emotional self-awareness: the ability to know what’s going on inside of us, providing insights that contribute to the language we use with others. If we can articulate what we are actually feeling while maintaining composure, it helps us to manage disturbing emotions and therefore our relationships with others. It’s an influence skill.

The professional who understands and successfully develops emotional self-awareness, has executive presence. He or she will never let a situation pass by that can be addressed directly, in the moment, and bring resolution. When we bury our emotions and avoid the conversation, or, use the conversation as an opportunity to vent, we will only cause harm to ourselves and those around us. To grow in this competency, we must pause to understand what’s happening within us, and put language to disturbing emotions. We then craft those feelings into nonjudgmental language, usually in the form of a question. “What you just said makes me feel like I’m being accused, and it’s creating some internal frustration—what message are you really trying to convey?” Staying in the game and promoting dialog through discovery-based questioning usually produces more clarity and understanding, resolving the issue peacefully. When executed well, we feel good and then go home with a positive feeling rather than negative emotions. Imagine an evening with the family under this scenario.

In all aspects of life, we have the choice whether to engage in a wholesome manner, or to drop into one of two aspects of unwholesome behavior, that is, abuse or abandonment. In the above example, to say nothing at all creates an undercurrent that doesn’t go away and it will manifest itself as a toxic environment in our homes. This is abandonment. On the other hand, if we use negative emotions in a combative way, we are sure to make more challenging enemies, and create messy problems that will leak into our family life. This is abuse. The only real way to resolve issues and create emotional balance in ourselves is to take the wholesome approach.

Coaching questions: What’s your first reaction when dealing with a difficult person or a toxic circumstance? What steps can you take to employ a more wholesome approach? Write your answers in your journal.

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