What Guides Your Leadership?

Ask I spoke in depth with an officer at Marathon Oil about one of my clients, our discussion naturally shifted to his leadership philosophy and how it comes into play with his direct reports. I want to share the five principles from a leadership model pinned to the wall in his office. They’re simple, powerful, and struck a chord with me.

1. People want to do a good job and want to win.

This principle may sound really basic, but it may not be something you think about day-to-day, especially in fast-paced, stressful situations. So, the next time you find frustration creeping up on you, stop and take a deep breath. Whether you believe it or not, consider for a moment that the person you are frustrated with actually wants to do a good job. If you adopted that perspective, how might it change how you think about their behavior and how you approach the situation?

2. People want and deserve to know where they stand with their supervisor.

I have to say that I can appreciate the difficulty most people have giving honest, constructive feedback—especially after leading Performance Management & Career Planning at Deloitte. A lot of managers and leaders dread the process and have concerns about whether the employee can handle the feedback: Will the employee have an emotional outburst? What might go wrong?

But, as a leader, what if you viewed feedback as something people want and deserve to have? It might shift your mindset from worrying about your discomfort to providing something of value and service to your employee.

3. Winners produce better bottom line results.

Research demonstrates time and again that “winners” (high performers who are engaged) contribute tremendously to the organizations in which they work. They creatively look for better ways to do get the job done and often elevate the performance of their entire team. So, as a leader, ask yourself, “What 1-2 things do I need to do to create more winners?”

4. Managers have more impact on performance than they realize.

Most people don’t leave jobs or companies; they leave their managers. I can’t tell you how often I see high performers leave organizations to work for a leader or manager they truly believe in—someone who has demonstrated that they care by supporting the employee’s career goals and personally investing in their success.

Leaders with true followers typically instill in their employees a genuine desire to go above and beyond. At the end of the day, this translates into a level of commitment, loyalty, and performance that is hard to replicate.

5. A manager’s job is to produce winners.

Ultimately, management and leadership are all about setting your employees up for success. Great managers and leaders build a strong commitment to their organizations by investing in getting to know their employees, demonstrating that they care about their aspirations, and helping them build their capabilities. Remember that this doesn’t have to be time consuming, but it does require consistent focus.

I hope this list has stimulated some ideas for you. Before you immerse yourself into the next thing on your to do list, take a few minutes to think about what principles guide your leadership and one action you will take to reinforce just one of those principles this week. Who knows, you may end up with a list that you decide to pin up on your office wall too!

How Well Do You Manage Your Energy?

I specialize in working with high performing leaders, people who have high expectations of themselves and won’t settle for less. When work gets really demanding, a high performer often responds by working longer hours, sometimes to the point of getting sick or disillusioned.

Research shows that proactively managing your energy can increase your capacity to get things done and improve your well-being (see HBR article: Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time). This is a lesson I learned the hard way a few years ago at Deloitte when I was leading a high stakes, high visibility initiative for the firm. Since then, I have helped many leaders develop strategies to renew their energy on a daily basis to avoid burnout and get better results.

To understand how well you manage your energy, look at each statement below and note whether it is True or False for you.

1. I rarely get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

2. I exercise less than 3 times per week.

3. I often skip meals or eat unhealthy food.

4. I constantly deal with interruptions at work, leaving little time to focus on what I need to do.

5. I have little time to reflect so I can be more proactive at work.

6. I have difficulty shutting work off after business hours and on weekends.

7. I feel stressed out and irritable, especially when I'm under pressure.

8. There is a gap between what I think is important and how I actually spend my time.

9. When I do spend time with my family, I'm not fully there.

10. I don't spend enough time doing what I really enjoy or find fulfilling.

The point of this exercise is not to depress you, but rather to give you a quick snapshot of how you are doing. From the list above, choose one area that you would like to improve and identify one action that you will take this week to get started. Take a look at the examples below:

  • I am going to leave my desk for lunch today.

  • I will exercise today, even if it is just for 15 minutes.

  • I will go to bed 20 minutes earlier than I usually do.

  • I will listen to some good music on the drive home instead of taking another conference call, so I can unplug from work by the time I get home.

  • I will not check email after 6:30 PM today.

Hopefully these examples will provoke some simple ideas for you. Just get started and you'll notice that your energy level and results improve. Remember, small steps can lead to big results.

Being in the Moment

At my 25-year high school reunion, I found myself going back down memory lane. I had so much fun reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.

As a member of the planning committee, I found myself paying much more attention to the body language and cues at each reunion event, because I wanted to make sure that people were having a good time. As I looked around, I was surprised by how much I noticed after just a few seconds. This reminded me of the importance of truly being in the moment. Although in this case I’m talking about a personal situation, the same concept applies to business.

So, I want to point out three things about “being in the moment” that may be helpful to you as a leader.

1. Notice the valuable information in front of you.

Day to day, most of us are so focused on our own responsibilities, that we overlook the valuable information that others send our way. Whether it’s someone’s look of frustration or anger or their excitement, it gives you insight into how they are feeling. More importantly, it gives you clues about how to respond in that situation.

Let me give you an example of how someone I know has put this into play. I have a former colleague from Deloitte Consulting who has mastered the art of “noticing.” When she enters a room, she quickly looks around and pays attention to the energy level and the body language of each person. So, when she speaks to someone, she already has valuable information that allows her to engage with the person beyond a surface level. She often surprises people when she mentions what she noticed, because she’s usually right on.

2. Send the right message about your leadership.

I remember coaching a manager who literally would have one foot out the door each time he would talk to one of his direct reports. Or even worse, he’d be looking at his BlackBerry the whole time. Yet he was surprised when his 360-feedback report said that his team feels like he doesn’t have time for them and that he just cares about himself.

Although he had a busy schedule like most managers, he recognized that he couldn’t get his job done without his team. On top of that, he really did care about them. So he decided that each morning, he would take five minutes to talk to at least one of his employees as he got his morning coffee. It was a simple strategy that helped him connect with his team before his day got crazy. By making a small investment of his time and giving each person his undivided attention, he communicated that he valued his relationships with them.

3. Take advantage of the opportunity in front of you.

Finally, if your mind is distracted by something other than what’s going on right now, you may miss the opportunity in that moment—to be creative, spontaneous, or something else. You may be so deep in thought or busy checking your PDA that you miss the chance to bring your “A” game.

Here is my Call to Action. Look at your calendar and choose an upcoming meeting to practice “being fully in the moment.” When you get to the meeting, remember to put your technology away so it doesn’t distract you. During the meeting, simply notice what’s going on around you—the body language, tone of voice, energy, and what’s being said. You may be surprised at how much you learn about others, and how much more engaged you are.

Investing In Yourself

I’d like to challenge you to think about how you’re investing in your professional growth and development. When was the last time you really took the time to focus on this? Perhaps when your company asked you to fill out your goals as part of the performance management process?

Well, I want to give you a few simple ideas to consider so you can start taking action today:

1. Put your strengths into play more powerfully.

Most people pay far more attention to their developmental areas than their strengths. But focusing on your strengths can give you that extra edge to take your performance to new heights. So, take a minute and jot down your top three strengths.

When I work with my clients, I help them recognize their strengths by connecting the dots between feedback from others, what I notice in the assessments they take, and common themes that emerge in our coaching. Even if you’re not working with an executive coach, you can take online assessments like the Strengths Finder or the VIA to give you additional insight and perspective.

Once you have identified your top strengths, ask yourself, “What one or two things can I do to put these strengths into play more powerfully, in the context of my current professional goals and role in the organization?” Just asking yourself this question will help you become more intentional about using your strengths.

2. Ask how you can be more effective.

Opening yourself up to feedback can be painful, but invaluable. When I conduct 360-degree interviews as part of the coaching process, I always ask the feedback providers what my client should start, stop, or keep doing to be more effective. You can do this on your own if you have the courage to put yourself “out there” and receive the input, and feel confident that people will be candid. So, think about who you would want to ask for input and how often.

Also, remember that asking for input from others can create a solid image about your leadership style, as long as you keep your defensiveness in check. Just know that you probably will not agree with all the input, and unless you plan to do something with it you’re better off not asking for it.

3. Think about how you want to stretch yourself.

Finally, as you look ahead to the next six months or a year, how do you want to stretch yourself? What skills or expertise do you want to further develop? What does the business really need? How will an investment in those skills or expertise enable stronger business results and advance your career?

By getting clear about the answers to these questions you will begin to formulate a business case in your own mind about how you want to invest in yourself, and the resources you may need from your company to do so. Neither you nor your company will invest time or money if there’s no ROI, so get clear about the outcomes you want to achieve.

Hopefully these three tips have stimulated some ideas for you. I want to challenge you to pick one area to take a small step towards this week. Remember, that small steps can lead to big results.

Making Change Stick

When my son learned to tie his shoelaces, I distinctly recall that intense look on his face as he focused so hard on each step in the process to make sure he did it all just right.

I’m sure you haven’t had to put that level of energy and focus into tying your shoes in years because you have reached that point of unconscious competence (where it’s second nature). However, you may have other things you want to master or change to take your leadership and performance to the next level.

When I coach leaders, my goal is to help them make the desired changes, and make them stick. As you might expect, there is a method to the madness. So, today, I want to share three tips that may expedite the change process for you.

1. Remind yourself what’s at stake.

Usually when you want to make a change in behavior, it’s because something much bigger is at stake. Let me explain what I mean. For example, I recently coached a client who is so smart that he often goes into mindreading mode. In other words, he keeps interrupting others because he “knows” what they are about to say.

He has finally come to realize the negative impact that this has on his relationships and wants to make a shift. At the end of the day, this isn’t about him wanting to be more polite and waiting patiently for others to finish. As a leader, this is about him building commitment by showing respect and valuing his team’s ideas. And for the business, it’s about delivering on the business goals as efficiently and effectively as possible. By keeping in mind what’s really at stake, he is much more motivated to follow through.

2. Recognize that others won’t notice immediately.

As you put in the time and effort to change your behavior, you might feel frustrated when others just don’t seem to notice. Remember that with the day-to-day distractions in their lives, most people will take a while to notice. And when they do, it may take time for them to trust that you can sustain the behavior change—and that has less to do with you and more to do with human nature.

3. Set aside time to assess your progress.

Last but not least, take time to understand what’s working for you and what’s not. By deliberately looking for the evidence, you will notice what’s working and will think about how to more proactively put it into play. Although change takes time, this approach will make change stick much faster.

So, whether you are making change on a small or large scale, identify one strategy you want to put into play for yourself this week. What small step will you take to make change stick?

Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders

I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Jim Kouzes, the co-author of The Leadership Challenge. For those of you who have not heard of this book, you should take a look. Based on over 30 years of research, he and Barry Posner identified five common practices of leaders who make extraordinary things happen.

Before we review the five practices, let’s first define leadership. Kouzes & Posner define a leader as someone whose direction you would willingly follow. In other words, you can’t be a leader without followers. To further define leadership the authors asked, “What do you look for and admire in a leader?” Here are the top four attributes and the percentage of respondents who mentioned them:

  • Honest (85%)

  • Forward looking (70%)

  • Inspiring (69%)

  • Competent (64%)

Over the 30 years that they have asked this question, the authors have consistently gotten the same top four responses in the same order. When you look at these four items collectively, they underscore the importance of credibility when it comes to leadership.

So, now let’s take a look at the Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders.

1. Model the way.

This practice is about establishing principles and standards for how people should be treated, and how goals should be pursued. As a leader, you must first clarify what you believe in and what you’re willing to take a stand for before you can articulate it to others. Then you need to align your actions with what you believe in (i.e., do what you say you will do).

2. Inspire a shared vision.

Through their research, Kouzes & Posner note that what distinguishes leaders from colleagues is their ability to be forward looking. Leaders can envision the future and create a compelling image of what the organization can become—and they truly believe that they can make a difference.

Contrary to what you may think, a leader does not have to originate the vision of the future. In fact, leaders may develop their vision by carefully tuning into what they hear from others. No matter where the vision comes from, the leader must be able to help others see it, engage them in it, and help them understand how they fit into it.

3. Challenge the process.

As you might expect, leadership is not about maintaining the status quo. Leaders Challenge the Process by experimenting, taking risks, and accepting disappointments as valuable learning opportunities. On a weekly basis, you can keep this exemplary practice at the forefront by asking, “What have I done this week to improve so that I’m more effective than I was last week?”

4. Enable others to act.

At the core of Enabling Others to Act is mutual respect and trust. Leaders understand that this can sustain extraordinary efforts, so they strive to create a trusting environment and take time to develop others.

In the workshop, Jim Kouzes challenged each of us to ask ourselves before every interaction with every person in our organizations, “What can I do in this interaction to make sure this person feels more capable as a result of what I say and do?” I would challenge you to do the same.

5. Encourage the heart.

The last practice is Encourage the Heart. Research shows that the highest performing leaders are more open and caring, express more affection, demonstrate more passion, and are more positive, grateful and encouraging than lower performers. Knowing that achieving extraordinary results takes hard work, strong leaders understand the power of recognizing and celebrating how others are making a difference.

Now that you’ve read about each exemplary practice, identify which ones you already do well and choose one practice to emphasize further. Remember that these practices don’t have to be time consuming—it’s all about taking small steps that lead you to big results. So, I urge you to choose a small step to implement from this list below or identify one of your own:

  • Think about when you performed at your best as a leader. What did you do in that situation that you can leverage today (you may have used several Exemplary Practices)?

  • Take 5 minutes to talk to your team about exciting possibilities you see for the future (Inspire a Shared Vision)

  • Ask, “What have I done this week to improve, so that I’m more effective than last week?” (Challenge the Process)

  • Ask, “What can I do during this interaction to make sure this person feels more capable as a result of what I say and do?” (Enable Others to Act)

  • Ask, “What can I do this week to encourage my team, so that they perform at a higher level?” (Encourage the Heart)

How Are You Getting In Your Own Way?

When you’re a high performer, you may have a relentless drive for results. Your expectations of yourself may be much higher than what others expect of you and failure is usually not an option. Although you have a remarkable ability to get results, you may fall into some traps that limit your effectiveness. Read through the traps below to see if any apply to you.

1. I mind read.

If you frequently interrupt others because you know what they are going to say, I urge you to simply notice the impact your behavior has on them. Pay attention to how they react including their body language, tone of voice, actions, and words. What do all those things tell you? I would guess that you are sending them some messages you had not intended to: “What you have to say doesn’t matter.” “My opinion carries more weight than yours.” “I don’t have time to listen to your input.”

2. I always know the right answer.

If you fall into this trap, you may have a high aptitude and can come up with the right answer most of the time (and usually much faster than others). So, you may not see a strong need to solicit input from others or explain the assumptions and facts behind your recommendations or solutions.

Although you may have the “right” answer, ask yourself what will maximize your effectiveness as a leader. How much of it is about getting to the absolute best solution, even if others won’t implement it? How much of it is about getting to a workable solution that others can support?

It often helps to go back and think about what happened the last time you pushed really hard for what you thought was the right answer. Remember that how you share your ideas is just as if not more important than the idea itself—and that you can do it in a way that engages others and leverages your expertise.

3. I set the bar really high.

Having high expectations of yourself and others can bring value as long as you do it in a way that still motivates and energizes others. Remember that not everyone views their careers in the same way you do. Some may see it as a source of security rather than a source of fulfillment. By understanding what motivates each of your team members, you will have valuable information that will help you develop an effective approach and minimize your frustration.

4. I take over when others don’t do things the way I would.

Micromanaging is a common trap that can completely distract you from making the highest and best use of your talent and skills. Remember to ask yourself what you’re giving up when you say “yes” to spending time creating a perfect deliverable when someone else could have done it well (just not as perfectly as you). Did it mean you had to work later to get to the higher priority work you should have been doing instead? Did it mean you couldn’t exercise or spend as much time with your family?

If you fall into one more of these traps, remember that we all do things that get in our own way. I urge you to identify one small step you will take this week to make a change in the right direction to avoid falling into the same trap again. And be sure to tell someone else about it so they can encourage you and assess your progress.