What I’m reading now: Training Leaders

Practicing anything mildly important, like say skiing or golf, without training is inadvisable. The fact that so many of your managers are practicing leadership without training should alarm you.

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Insights from the “Facing Challenges” Tweetchat

Last week I hosted my final tweetchat of 2012 on the topic of facing challenges in the workplace. I started the discussion with a question: “What is the number one challenge you face in the workplace?” Three key challenges emerged, and along with them, many ideas for overcoming them.

The 9 to 5, or 6, or 7, or…

The combination of mobile technology with increased work pressures and expectations has contributed to more people working more hours. While we appreciate increased flexibility, the additional workload can be daunting and at times even paralyzing.  However, there are strategies we can implement to manage our workloads, improve overall performance, and even make time for the little people (AKA your children). Managing your workload is really about managing your time, for example, setting appropriate boundaries for work and personal time or what I called in a previous post, managing “work/life imbalance.” Those in the tweetchat also had good ideas for time management. Strategy Consultant, Alan Howze, had recently been experimenting with “Living Your Calendar,” which takes your traditional to do list to the next level by helping to prioritize and set aside time for specific tasks, instead of focusing solely on urgent tasks while pushing aside important ones (a critical distinction).  The tweeters at Online Business Degree suggested breaking down projects and setting time limits on individual tasks. Moral is, if your workload is burning you out, and you find you don’t have time to do the things you love or really need to do, then take a good, hard look at your calendar, chances are it could be better organized.

Fear of Failure

“What will my boss think or say or even worse, do?” Often employees are afraid to speak up or take action, because they are concerned about the recourse. But as David Williams wrote in his recent article, “Employees who are afraid of something or someone in the organization will naturally close up to protect themselves, and can no longer perform at their full capacity.” Plain and simple, fear is a performance and innovation killer. However, leaders can play a significant role in reducing employee fears. As leaders, we should advocate for and truly live an “open door” policy. Give your employees the opportunity to get to know you and what you stand for. Walk the halls and introduce yourself to people you don’t know. As employees get to know their leaders, they become less afraid of them and more willing to contribute new ideas. As for the individual, consultant, Brianna Lux, had a whole different suggestion: Improv. Yes, I mean the “stage, mic, random acts of comedy” improv, and it turns out, Forbes agrees.

Employee Dissatisfaction

One of the greatest challenges an organization can face is employee dissatisfaction. Low morale contributes to equally low performance. I thought it would be better to ask the group what would improve employee satisfaction rather than propose ideas myself: “Provide a clear career path and encourage employees to engage mentors who can assist with their development,” wrote Adam Jelic, Workforce Transformation Lead. “Find what motivates your teams!” interjected Senior Managing Consultant, Bill Kirst.  While Alison Nickerson suggested, “Let people feel they can contribute and be a part of something.” Three very different ideas that prove there are many ways to overcome employee dissatisfaction – and for more ideas start by asking your employees.

For a conversation about challenges, and trust me, it wasn’t difficult for participants to name a few, it had a distinctly hopeful feeling. I think this gets at the question of why even have a conversation about something seemingly unpleasant? Hiding challenges will almost never make them go away, but acknowledging them and then collaboratively addressing them will not only eliminate the problem, but build camaraderie too.

Friday Fast Tip: Say Thanks

Saying “thank you” goes a long way. It’s easy to overlook and underestimate, but a simple thank you can mean a lot. An easy, quick, cost effective motivator, employee recognition doesn’t have to be complicated. Try sending hand written notes thanking people for their hard work, be specific about what they did and why it was important

Should we make New Year’s resolutions for work?

As 2012 is coming quickly to a close, many of us are starting to think about what 2013 will bring. A new year often represents to people an opportunity to start anew, a rebirth of sorts. That’s why each year millions of people make New Year’s resolutions – a commitment to doing better in the future. While so many people are familiar with personal resolutions, should we be making work resolutions too?

Work resolutions generally fall into two categories: Improve my own career and life or improve my organization. Here are some examples of each:

Improve my own career and life:

  • Create a career plan for the next five years
  • Seek out a mentor
  • Attend more networking events
  • Take on a new challenge or responsibility
  • Work toward becoming a Subject Matter Expert

Improve my organization:

  • Review focus on the client and new ways of delivering value for them
  • Develop and energize our people through training and knowledge sharing
  • Provide opportunities for employees to connect as a community
  • Revisit the organization vision – does it still fit? Is it translatable to our individuals?
  • Develop ways to recognize employees on a regular basis.

But should we be making them? Work resolutions are not the best way for you to focus on your career or organization development, as it is typically spontaneous and New Year’s resolutions are notorious for getting no attention past January 3rd!  But if the idea of a New Year’s resolution starts your thinking – then go for it!  Take advantage of the time of year that encourages new beginnings and do some serious planning. Ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish next year for both my personal career and business organization?”  For each resolution, develop a plan: how you will do it, by what date and what expected outcome.  Develop a way to measure progress.

Remember though, if you want to make meaningful, lasting changes to your career or organization, you must be continuously working towards these changes; they must be an inherent part of your activities. I don’t mean to say that if you aren’t already doing something, you can’t possibly or shouldn’t start. If you don’t have a long-term plan, it may be time to create one.  The idea of improving one’s self and organization is a daily mantra, a constant practice.  December 31st is a great impetus, just make it last.

Will you be making a new year’s resolution for work? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Great Leaders: You, Not Me

I have already discussed the traits of leaders in comparison to managers:  Authentic, courageous, great communicators with vision and charisma. But do leaders come on a continuum of success or are all leaders created equal? History will tell us that there certainly is a continuum. Some leaders go on to accomplish great things, while others flounder and fade away. So what makes great leaders? It is the ability to understand it’s not about me, it’s all about you.

Great leaders create a vision that’s meaningful to you Leaders create visions, what they believe the organization should aspire to be. But a vision alone is not change. The vision has to be applied to everything an organization does in order to create a significant change. This is why great leaders know that in order for their vision to succeed; they must have the buy in of their employees. And they do that through creating a context.

  • Adaptive perspective:  “The contextual lens [leaders] create is often focused on a desired outcome. They help the team envision the ultimate goal and then challenge their brightest teammates to build strategies to get there regardless of current adversities,” said Mike Maddock in his article on Forbes. To provide the context, leaders have to think from their employees’ perspectives. They must start first by asking questions like, “How will this impact the day to day work of my employees?” or “Why should this matter to the individual?” Through questions like these, leaders can form the context that makes a vision truly meaningful.
  • “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” This was Simon Sinek’s take on what makes great leaders inspire actions. And it’s true, over and over; we see that the most engaged employees are the ones who believe in the organization’s values – not the ones who are paid the most, not the ones who know the most, the ones who believe the most. When John F. Kennedy spoke at his inauguration in 1961, he was facing strained relations with Cuba and a war against communism. However, he didn’t tell the nation to go enlist, instead he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” This now famous quote is an example of how great leaders can motivate desired behaviors through speaking to shared beliefs and values, in this case civic duty, instead of simply an end goal.

Great leaders work to make you successful – Leaders are often measured on numbers: the quantity of widgets they sold, the money they made, the expenses they cut. But great leaders know that to create results, they have to first create great people.

  • Bring out the best in others: By creating an environment that encourages growth, innovative ideas, and mutual trust, great leaders can create great employees. Employees have to feel safe enough to take on challenges and try new things. You can’t teach a child to ride a bike through a Power Point presentation (on slide 1, see how you brake). It has to be done through experience. It may be scary, slightly dangerous, and they may fail completely, but through that practice they will learn and excel. The same applies to employees.
  • Prepare for the future:  A day will come when leaders will be ready to leave and someone else must take their place. A true test of a great leader is the success of the organization when they aren’t around. Great leaders prepare their organization for longevity, and a future that is not dependent on one person today, but on the people who will be here tomorrow.

There are leaders and there are great leaders, and likely many in between. Great leaders understand and act on the belief “it’s not about my success, it’s about yours,” because they know that their own success is entirely dependent on the people around them.