Leadership courage

How Are Your Blind Spots Getting in Your Way?

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Blind spots. We all have them. But do you really understand how they’re getting in the way of your success?

Imagine racing a high-performance car. You are looking ahead, planning your next move to sustain your performance without compromising your speed. You need to switch lanes and have just a split second to decide which way to go. But you can’t see because your car has a huge blind spot. What do you do? Do you slow down and risk losing the race? Or do you move to the next lane, with unknown consequences to you and others?

Like a race car driver, a high-performing leader moves at a fast clip — zipping from one move to the next, making quick decisions; all the while focused on getting results. If you are like many leaders, you have limited time to reflect. You may not realize that you have blind spots — behaviors that could be hindering your progress and possibly putting others at risk.

So, what can you do? Here are three tips to help you identify and address your blind spots:

1. Ask others for feedback

Identify people with a range of perspectives who will be open and honest about your performance and ask them for feedback. Be sure to ask what you do well, how you may be getting in your own way, and what you should do more or less of to be effective in your role.

As you prepare to request feedback, think about the importance of anonymity and the approach that will yield the most insight. For example, you can use your company’s 360 or upward feedback tool, use a simple online survey tool like SurveyMonkey, sit down and have a direct conversation, or work with an executive coach who can interview others on your behalf and summarize the key themes. Whatever you decide, be sure to choose a method that fosters honest, candid feedback and gives you enough context to interpret the comment.

2. Validate the feedback

Everyone reacts to feedback differently. You may find yourself choosing to deny it or ignore it. However you feel about the feedback, I would urge you to at least validate it. Look for evidence and examples through your own observations, reflection, and conversations with others. Whether you agree with the feedback or not, entertaining the possibility that “it might be true” will open you up to noticing things you might not otherwise see.

3. Take Action

So now that you have gathered and validated the feedback, what should you do? Just remember that feedback has value only if you do something with it. Start by choosing one or two areas that you’d like to focus on first. Be careful not to overload yourself with action items, and remember that your action items don’t have to be huge. Small steps can lead to big results.

Are You Missing the Two Most Important Steps in Giving Feedback?

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Do you struggle with giving candid, constructive feedback? Read on if you answered, “Yes.”

If you’re like most managers and leaders, you have the best intentions when you are giving feedback. You want to communicate clearly and constructively without damaging the relationship, ultimately improving performance. As you know, this can be easier said than done.

So, as a feedback provider, what can you do to set up the conversation for success? Well, as I’ve coached people over the years, I have noticed two areas that can make a big difference:

1. Describe what you observed.

When you are giving feedback, be sure to state the behavior you observed in objective terms. In other words, state the facts without interpreting them. This will make the person much more open to what you have to say and more likely to hear your underlying message.

Let’s use Jane as an example. From the past two team meetings you have attended you might think that Jane can’t control her temper when others don’t agree with her point of view. If you share your conclusion with her, it could immediately raise her defenses, resulting in a counterproductive argument.

Instead, focus on the sharing the facts without sharing your interpretation. For example, you could say, “In the past two team meetings, you raised your voice at Jim and Sue when they disagreed with your suggestions.”

2. Communicate the impact of the behavior.

Sometimes you can focus so much on communicating the behavior that you may overlook the importance of explaining its impact. So, challenge yourself to think about any quantitative or qualitative consequences, and come up with at least two or three to share. This will go a long way in reinforcing the importance of the feedback, and will offer clues about what may be required to resolve the situation at hand.

Building on Jane’s situation above, here are some examples: “Jim is embarrassed and does not want to attend future team meetings.” “Sue has concerns about working with you.” “The rest of the team does not want to bring up any ideas that you may disagree with.” “Other leaders have heard about these two meetings, and are questioning your management style.”

Although there are many other important steps involved in preparing to give feedback, I would encourage you to spend more time on these two. It can be the difference between a constructive and counterproductive conversation.

Can You Really Afford Not to Ask for Help?

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One of the common themes I find in coaching high-performing women managers and leaders is their reluctance to ask for help. This shows up in their personal and professional lives. As you know, women are socialized to take care of others, so naturally it can be easier to put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own.

In the working world, this can limit a woman’s ability to take her performance and career to the next level. When combined with the added demands of a family, especially a two-career family, it also dramatically increases the risk of burnout. This has huge implications for women, and their employers.

Below are four common traps that women often fall into, and suggestions on how to reframe them so that they don’t get in your way.

1. "I should be able to do this."

This trap is all about having high expectations and standards for yourself, which has pros and cons. On one hand, it can drive you to consistently deliver high-quality work. On the other hand, it may cause you to overlook how you can empower others, develop them to contribute more, and help them feel important. Next time you fall into this trap, ask yourself what you are indirectly communicating to others when you choose to take it all on yourself.

2. "I like things done a certain way, so I'd rather just do it myself."

Is the pursuit of perfection getting in your way, whether it’s about how your spouse loads the dishwasher or how a PowerPoint presentation is formatted? We all have our preferred ways of doing things, but at what cost? In the big picture, how important is it for this task to be done perfectly, and to be done by you? What higher-priority items should you spend your time on instead?

3. "It will take more time to explain this task than it would to do it."

This trap is all about the short-term vs. long-term trade-offs. In other words, it may take more time to delegate and explain this task this time, but the next time you need help it will go much faster. By investing time now, you can set the stage for getting ongoing help with this and other tasks.

4. "Everyone's already so busy. I don't want to overload them."

This is the classic trap of deciding for others before you even give them a chance to weigh in on the decision. Who knows, you may find that others are too busy help. But then again, you might not. People may want to help you because they think what you’re working on is interesting or challenging, or they see it as a chance to demonstrate their capabilities. To them, it may be worth taking on more work to have that opportunity. Trust that they will let you know if they can’t help.

In the long run, taking it all on yourself can limit your success and the success of your team. Just remember that there is an implicit trade-off in the choices you make. Keep these traps in mind so that you make those choices consciously.

What Kind of Leader Are You?

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If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t given much, if any, thought to your brand as a leader. When I coach high-performing managers and leaders, leadership brand comes up time and again — because being deliberate about assessing and developing your brand can have a huge impact on your success.

So, if you’re ready to take a look at your brand, here are four steps to get you started:

1. Find out what you are known for today.

Whether you realize it or not, you do have a brand. The question is how well it's serving you. As you define your current brand, limit yourself to three, one-word adjectives. Reflect on performance reviews and common themes you have heard from others in the past, and consider collecting feedback from others. You can conduct an anonymous online survey, ask people yourself, or have someone else (like an executive coach, mentor, or supervisor) gather feedback for you. Whatever you do, choose an approach that will give you candid information. Remember to ask people to give you specific examples. What do you say or do that demonstrates your brand? You have to understand what it looks and sounds like.

2. Determine what you want to be known for.

Your desired brand must be authentic (i.e., true to you); this is not about misleading anyone. Again, limit yourself to three one-word adjectives. I once coached a female executive (let’s call her Michelle) about her desired brand.

She wants others to view her as:

Credible – Michelle wants others to recognize her specialized industry expertise because it is important for the role and business she is in.

Confident – Michelle wants to have a physical presence that conveys that she is a strong player.

Respectful – When she disagrees with a point of view, Michelle wants to do it in a manner that still encourages ideas and input from others.

3. Define how to reinforce your desired brand.

Again, it’s important to determine what you would say or do to reinforce your brand. In Michelle’s example, demonstrating credibility might involve proactively sharing specific industry information with the leadership team in the context of a top priority or project. Confidence might entail speaking louder, making direct eye contact when addressing a group, standing or sitting taller, or speaking up at least once in every leadership meeting.

4. Take action to close the gap.

Identify one or two actions you will take to close the gap between your current and your desired brand. This may mean that you have to stop or start doing something. Using Michelle’s example of being respectful, she has to stop interrupting others when they speak and resist that urge to jump right in.

Just remember that your leadership brand is important context for how you show up as a leader — in your everyday words and actions. By proactively defining and managing your brand, you will get better results. So, what are you waiting for?

How to Keep Your Good Idea from Being Shot Down

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Have you ever found yourself frustrated because you have a good idea that doesn’t go anywhere? No matter how big or small the idea, we’ve all faced this at some point. After reading John Kotter’s book Buy In — Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, I thought it would help to share some of his strategies to “save” good ideas.

Take stock.

Start with being crystal clear about your idea. Can you explain your idea in a short elevator ride? If not, you need to distill it down to the essential elements and keep it simple. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in giving so much context or justification for your idea that you lose your audience in the details. Think about the basics of what they need to know.

Next, think about who might support the idea, and which likely supporters you should talk to about the idea before sharing it more broadly. During my years at Deloitte Consulting, this strategy was invaluable for getting buy-in and for identifying potential attacks, and from whom they might come. Remember to think about how you can engage your supporters to respond to naysayers, and ask them about when and how you should communicate to key stakeholders. If you do it right, the decision-making meeting should be a non-event — because you had all the right meetings before the meeting.

Finally, role-play the meeting or conversation in advance, anticipating and responding to attacks or objections. Sometimes it can really help to have someone brainstorm with you.

Anticipate the four basic attack strategies.

Although the book lists 28 attack strategies, at the core they are all about the following four basic attack strategies:

  1. Fear mongering – This strategy aims at raising anxieties of the group to prevent a thoughtful examination of the idea. It gets people responding irrationally and emotionally.

  2. Death by delay – You may have experienced this frustrating strategy first hand. This is where so many meetings or steps are proposed that you completely miss the window of opportunity for the idea.

  3. Confusion – This tactic muddies the water with irrelevant facts, convoluted logic, or so many alternatives that a productive dialogue gets stalled.

  4. Ridicule and character assassination – This is what I call playing dirty, whether it’s through verbal or nonverbal communication. The attacker may raise questions about your competence or preparation, redirecting the conversation away from the idea itself.

Develop your responses in advance.

So, what should you do to respond to these attack strategies? In a nutshell, Kotter recommends doing the unexpected, taking the high road, and staying focused. Here are the four elements he suggests you integrate into your response.

  1. Let attackers into the discussion and let them go after you. Kotter suggests doing this because it gets people’s attention. Without their attention, you won’t have a chance to explain the issue or your proposed solution.

  2. Keep your responses clear, simple, crisp, and full of common sense. Don’t get mired in explaining all the logic and facts, which can make any audience glaze over.

  3. Show respect constantly. Don’t fight or collapse or become defensive. By treating others with respect, you draw an audience emotionally to your side, where they are more likely to listen carefully and sympathetically.

  4. Focus on the whole audience. Don’t be distracted by the detractors.

Remember that it’s about winning the hearts and minds of the majority, not the minority.

At the end of the day, it’s all about preparation. You can use these concepts to prepare before you pitch any idea – no matter how big or small because the basic approach is sound. Just don’t try to wing it, even if your idea seems bulletproof or you expect a friendly audience. A few minutes of preparation can go a long way.

The Power of Letting Go

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During a presentation I gave in Dallas on resilience, I led the group through an exercise where they had to pull out the most valuable lessons they had learned from working through difficult situations in the past. I want to share a common theme that emerged from our discussion that evening — the Power of Letting Go — because I see this come up all the time with high performers.

A woman who attended my presentation described a time when she had been working and pushing so hard to resolve a critical business issue. She explained how much was at stake in this particular situation, and that she really needed some key players to step up and take action. But they just weren’t getting engaged or responding as she had hoped. She worried about things unraveling, as any of us would in her situation. But she had also reached the point where there really was nothing more she could do. She went on to explain that at this low point for her, another leader in the organization gave her the following words of wisdom, “Just let go and let things happen.”

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? As a high performer, you may do whatever it takes to make something work, even when it means working crazy hours and jumping through hoops. For an outsider looking in, it may appear completely insane. “Failure” probably isn’t even in your vocabulary, and you may keep pushing and working harder because that has always worked for you . . . until you encounter a situation where that approach just won’t work.

As a high performer, you may not recognize that your drive for results may keep others from experiencing the consequences of their choices and actions. Think about it for a minute. Why would they jump in and do something when you’re so willing to take charge and do it for them?

Just remember that what you don’t do can be just as or more important than what you do. As I’ve admitted before, I too have learned from the School of Hard Knocks — and it helps me relate to what my clients face. I remember realizing the Power of Letting Go at two key points in my 14-year career at Deloitte. I recall feeling exhausted, frustrated, and burned out both times. Then I realized that doing more of the same just wouldn’t get me to a different result. There was nothing left to do other than stop trying so hard — and just let go. In 2010, I experienced this lesson again as I worked through some personal transitions. I am always amazed at how letting go leads me so much faster to what I want, personally or professionally.

I want to leave you with three things that have helped me and my clients realize the Power of Letting Go:

1. Recognize when you have done everything you reasonably could have to work through the challenge at hand.

Usually when you are working this hard, others can see your commitment, work ethic, and drive for results. The question is, do you see it? Look for the evidence.

2. Ask yourself what could happen if you stopped pushing so hard.

Take time to think about the consequences others might experience and the ripple effect of those, if you stopped pushing so hard. And don’t forget to think about how letting go would impact you.

3. Take a leap of faith that things will work out as they should.

There may be some things you don’t know or just can’t see about the situation because you are so immersed in it. Just let them unfold. Trust that if you have acted in good faith and given it your best shot, the outcome will be what it should be.

So, the next time you find yourself in a tough situation and pushing really hard, keep these three things in mind. You might be surprised at how letting go will help you take a giant leap forward.

Do You Have Mentors or Sponsors?

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Whether you’re a man or a woman, you’ve probably heard time and again how important it is to have at least one strong mentor to guide you and help you develop the skills to get to the next level in your career. Most large companies even offer formal or informal mentoring programs. So you might think that both genders benefit equally from having a mentor. However, a Harvard Business Review article, Why Men Get More Promotions than Women, highlights that men benefit more than women.

The article shares research from a 2010 study by Catalyst, a leading nonprofit organization that works with businesses to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business.

Here is one of the most notable findings from the research:

“Although women are mentored, they’re not being promoted. A Catalyst study of more than 4,000 high potentials shows that more women than men have mentors— yet women are less likely to advance in their careers. That’s because they’re not actively sponsored the way the men are. Sponsors go beyond giving feedback and advice; they advocate for their mentees and help them gain visibility in the company. They fight to get their protégés to the next level.”

The article goes on to say that men and women both mention receiving valuable career advice from their mentors, but men predominantly describe being sponsored. Women explain that their mentoring relationships help them better understand themselves and how they work, and what they might need to change as they move up the corporate ladder. Men, on the other hand, tell more stories about how their bosses and mentors have helped them strategically plan their career moves, assume responsibility and leadership in new roles, and openly support their authority.

The research certainly has implications for organizations as they design mentoring programs and explore how to best support the advancement of women. But there are also important implications for what you should personally do. Here are three suggestions to think about:

1. Recognize the distinction between mentorship and sponsorship.

Both mentors and sponsors offer tremendous value in helping you develop yourself and proactively manage your career. Mentors typically serve as role models, providing guidance and perspective to help you further develop your skills and navigate challenging political situations. Sponsors, on the other hand, give you exposure to opportunities and visibility to influential leaders, and advocate on your behalf.

2. Have mentors and sponsors in your network.

Recognize that the skills required to be an effective mentor may be different from what it takes to be an effective sponsor. Mentors can typically hold any position in the organization and can help you close gaps in your skills, while sponsors have clout and yield considerable influence on key decision-makers. Remember to have both mentors and sponsors in your network, using your career goals as important context for whom you engage.

3. Be mindful of whom you choose.

It may be more comfortable for you to choose individuals who look like you. In fact, the research shows that men tend to gravitate toward men and women to women. However, when it comes to sponsors, more important than gender is the person’s role and level in the organization. Remember that it’s critical to gain sponsorship from leaders who hold senior-level positions and have influence and power. As you think about mentors, think about the skills you are trying to build and who may be able to help you fill those gaps.

So, to get you started, take a look at your existing network in the context of what you’re trying to accomplish personally and professionally. This will serve as an important guide to identify whom to engage as mentors and sponsors to get the support you need.

The Fine Art of Influence

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Influence has so many implications, from getting your ideas heard to getting the support and resources you need to implement them. For some, the fine art of influence comes naturally, but for most it requires concerted effort.

Let’s start by taking a look at a common definition of influence:

Influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others. (Source: dictionary.com)

Well, who wouldn’t want to be a compelling force that affects what others think or do?! You might be thinking that this sounds more like manipulating others to get what you want. However, what I’m referring to is learning how to develop win/win scenarios that allow you to get traction by being authentic, considering what is important to others, and doing what’s right for your company.

For example, I have a client who is trying to take the performance of her organization to the next level but keeps getting tangled in a web of politics. She needs help from another group to get the results she wants, but hasn’t been able to influence them to collaborate. Her focus is not self-serving. She truly has the organization’s best interest in mind.

So, we zeroed in on one critical relationship that could influence my client’s results dramatically. Below is a list of questions that I asked her in the context of influencing a specific person to take action. These questions may help you the next time you want to exert more influence.

What are you really trying to accomplish?

First, be clear about what you want and why. It will help you better understand and communicate your underlying intent. For example, you may want someone to invite you to a specific leadership team meeting. On the surface, it might seem to the other person that you just want to schmooze, but in reality you have and want to share key information with the group so that they can make better business decisions. Clarifying and sharing your intent will lead you to make the request in a way that will help the other person understand the “so what.”

How are you perceived by the other person?

Your credibility and reputation impacts whether the other person notices or really hears what you want. So, take time to reflect about what the other person thinks of you and how her “filter” might affect what she thinks of your request.

In my client’s case, the other person thinks of her as smart, direct, and focused on doing the right thing. However, they don’t know each other well, so my client may need to reinforce some of those attributes in her communication.

What is important to the other person?

Asking this question will help you zero in on what motivates the other person. It could range from looking good to his boss, to wanting to get promoted, to achieving a specific goal, to working less. If you don’t know the answer to this question, talk to others who might.

Where is the common ground for you both?

This final step brings it all together by combining your intent with what matters to the other person. People tend to be much more receptive if they view your request as aligned with their goals and objectives. Think about how you can frame your request or what you want in this context.

By taking even a couple of minutes to think through these questions, you can dramatically shift how you frame an idea or make a request — and your influence on the outcome. It can be the difference between sounding nitpicky and self- serving vs. sounding focused on something that matters to you and the other person involved, and that brings value to the organization. Give it a shot and see what happens.

Do You Provide “Strategic Snapshots” of Your Performance?

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If you’re like most people, you have a sense of what you want to accomplish when each day begins—and then the day “happens.” You may get diverted by unplanned issues and be left wondering, “What the heck happened?!”

No matter what is going on in your day, I urge you to think about the countless opportunities you have to showcase what you’re doing to add value and make a difference. I like to call this providing “strategic snapshots” of your performance. In my signature presentation “Getting the Visibility You Want” (aka, “Tastefully Tooting Your Own Horn”) and in my coaching, I offer a range of strategies on how to do this in a way that works for you.

Before I dive into giving you my tips, I want you to consider the following points as important context.

  • We are all busy—usually too busy to notice how others are adding value and contributing on a day-to-day basis.

It’s not that we don’t want to notice; it’s just that our attention is divided. And your boss is probably no different from you in this respect. So, you have to help your boss notice how you’re making a difference. I’d like to say a mid-year or year-end discussion as part of your formal performance management process is enough—but it just isn’t. When I led Performance Management & Career Planning at Deloitte, I came to fully appreciate how often people are out of sync with their boss’s view of their performance.

  • This isn’t about bragging.

At the end of the day, this is about sharing important information that can add value to your company and shape the direction of your career. Remember that as someone who has a personal stake in your performance and development, your boss needs to know how and what you’re doing. And others in the company can benefit from learning about how you overcame specific challenges and what led to your success.

So, here are three suggestions on how to provide “strategic snapshots” of your performance:

1. Be clear about what you want to be known for.

Your desired brand/reputation serves as important context and a filter for what to share with others. So, take the time to get clear about the 2-3 things you want people to think of when they think of you. This isn’t about trying to be someone you’re not. It’s about helping others understand what differentiates you and why that matters.

2. Notice the opportunities in front of you.

Before you go into a meeting, have a call with someone, or write an email, ask yourself, “How can I demonstrate how I’m adding value, or reinforce my desired brand in this interaction?” Every interaction may not afford this opportunity, but asking yourself this question will lead you to provide “strategic snapshots” of your performance more often.

3. Find an approach that fits your style.

As you know, some people have no problem telling others how they are adding value while others struggle because they don’t want to come across as arrogant, or self-promotion doesn’t fit with their cultural norms. So, don’t just adopt someone else’s approach. Take the time to think about what fits your personal style.

As a first step, think about a couple of accomplishments you’d like to share and how and why they have relevance and value to others. By going through this thought process you will present the information differently—less like bragging and more like information that others really need to know.

Remember that it’s up to you to consistently share and reinforce what you want others to know about your contributions (i.e., provide “strategic snapshots” of your performance) no matter how your day unfolds. And it doesn’t have to involve a huge effort or time commitment. You should know my mantra by now: “Small steps can lead to big results.”

Are You Keeping Your Gold Mine of Ideas to Yourself?

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If you have a useful idea and no one knows about it, does it really have any value? Well, I would argue that it doesn’t. If you find yourself holding back, what makes you reluctant to speak up? It usually starts with that fleeting thought that goes through your head.

Let’s take a look at three thoughts that might prevent you from sharing your views, and what you can do about each of them so that others can benefit from the value you bring.

“What I have to say is nothing earth shattering.”

If you fall into this category, take a second to ask yourself what others could gain from your perspective. Recognize that others don’t bring the same experiences you do, and what you see may not be as obvious to others (especially if they’re immersed in the issue/topic).

You may be dismissive when you have truly mastered a skill (i.e., you are unconsciously competent in performing it) or have deep expertise, because you know it like the back of your hand. Don’t underestimate the value you bring. While you may feel like you’re speaking for the sake of it, remember that others may find your comments insightful and relevant.

Whether or not you say anything new or insightful by your own standards, I want to remind you that there is tremendous value in being able to:

  • Summarize: This can help others in the room get refocused on what has been accomplished in the discussion and what still needs attention.

  • Bring people back to the big picture: Helping them connect the dots can refocus on what’s most important to the discussion at hand (especially if it’s been meandering).

  • Help a group see common ground: Noticing the alignment and common goals can help the whole group move forward, particularly when a range of perspectives have been shared.

"My idea is not ready for prime time.”

You may hear this from people who prefer to reflect before they share their ideas with others (often introverts). Unlike extroverts, who typically think and process out loud, introverts often want to be more thoughtful about what they say before they say it. At times this can be misconstrued as holding back ideas that could be of value to others, or perfectionism. If any of this sounds familiar, trust me that you’re not alone.

I would recommend that before you walk into a meeting; anticipate what might come up. What might they ask? What challenges may come up based on who will be present in the room? How would you respond? Taking even five minutes to prepare ahead of time will help you step out there a little sooner than you typically would, and with a stronger sense of conviction and confidence.

“Is this really worth my time and energy to share my views?”

Yes, we all have those moments where we are just ready for a meeting to be over. Of course you wouldn’t dare bring something else up because it may drag your unproductive meeting out even longer (and it’s already been going on long enough)!

Before you mentally disengage and start answering email on your phone, ask yourself what opportunity sits before you in this meeting. Remember that it’s up to you to see these moments as unique opportunities to accomplish something of importance to you and/or your team — whether it’s reinforcing your leadership brand, bringing direction to the group, advancing a relationship, or actually making productive use of an otherwise useless meeting.

I would ask you to identify one thing you need to keep in mind or do so that others can get value from what you uniquely bring. Don’t keep that gold mine of ideas all to yourself. Spread the wealth.

Learning the Unwritten Rules

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At a conference, I heard a senior director from Catalyst (a leading organization focused on advancing women) speak about Unwritten Rules: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You. Like the presenter, I wish I could say that doing a good job is enough. It simply isn’t. Although performance matters, understanding and playing by the unwritten rules can have a huge impact on your career advancement.

I want to share three of the strategies or “learning approaches” that Catalyst found in its research to help discover the unwritten rules. The research also reveals the effectiveness of each strategy in career advancement and breaks down the data by gender.

1. Observation

This approach involves taking time to really understand how things work by paying attention to what other successful employees do, how they behave, and who gets promoted. Almost 90 percent of survey respondents said they had learned through observation, and 49 percent would recommend this approach.

Most of us have a lot going on day-to-day, so this strategy may not get the attention it deserves. Take a minute right now to ask yourself how often you take time to simply notice what is going on around you and Connect the Dots. As organizations go through changes, and leaders move up or out, taking time to do this periodically may give you some important insight.

2. Mentoring and Feedback

The second key learning approach centers on regularly seeking guidance and input from others about what it takes to succeed, staying in tune with your own behavior and performance, and using the information to understand what matters most in the organization. Eighty percent said they used this approach, and 32 percent would recommend it to others.

Remember that engaging others in giving you guidance and feedback can also go a long way in creating sponsors, people who have a vested interest in your success and will advocate on your behalf.

3. Trial and Error

This strategy, which some may call “learning from the school of hard knocks,” is all about figuring out what works and doesn’t as you go along.

Although a huge percentage of respondents learned unwritten rules this way — 78 percent to be exact — only 18 percent found this approach helpful.

Wow, wouldn’t it be nice if someone just saved you the trouble and handed you a list of all the unwritten rules? Since that probably won’t happen, think about one small step you can take to put one of the most effective strategies into play for yourself.

Connecting the Dots for Others

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There's one area that I always work on with my clients that they never realize they need to work on. It doesn’t come up in our initial discussions about their coaching goals, but it does affect their ability to truly lead with impact and build a strong leadership brand.

Let me explain. Usually, when I ask leaders about the most critical things they want to accomplish from a business standpoint, they rattle off a list of things. The same thing happens when I ask about their teams. Very few of them can easily articulate the two or three areas of focus that guide everything they do.

For example, I have a client who has the remarkable ability to dive into a completely new area of responsibility, learn what she needs to, and restructure the work to maximize results. On top of that, she empowers and develops her team to step up and sustain the performance. She has done this time and again, and can give me countless examples. Through our work together, she has come to realize that her primary focus is on creating sustainable value while minimizing risk for the business and developing future leaders. This is her beacon that guides everything she does.

By realizing this (i.e., Connecting the Dots for herself), she can now articulate a consistent message about her focus and intent. This provides tremendous value because she can give others a way to interpret what she says and does by constantly framing her actions and decisions in the context of her areas of focus.

Remember that others will draw conclusions about what you say and do using their own filters — and they may take away something different than you intend. Let me give you an example to further explain. I have another client (let’s call her Michelle) who has a strong focus on supporting her team. This means that Michelle invests considerable time coaching her new hires, but she also recognizes the need to get her employees working independently without her day-to-day guidance.

So she was surprised at her new hire’s frustration when she scaled back her one- on-one time with him. Michelle knew that pulling back was the best support she could give him because it would serve him well in the long run. However, her employee didn’t realize what she was doing. He didn’t Connect the Dots in the same way Michelle thought he would. In fact, he had drawn the opposite conclusion. By explaining her primary focus, Michelle helped him understand that she was supporting him and how. He now has a way to interpret her actions and understand her expectations.

Remember that Connecting the Dots for others is not a “once and you’re done” exercise. You have to do it again and again — and you can’t do it unless you have Connected the Dots for yourself. So take advantage of the unique opportunity you have to provide a framework to give others insight into what you think is important, what success looks like, and what will guide your decisions. It will also create a stronger sense of conviction for you — about what you want to accomplish, how you will get there, and what you want to be known for as a leader.

How Does Your Leadership Impact Team Performance?

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When I speak about high-performing teams, I often cite these key things any leader should think about:

1. Connecting the Dots

Remember that as a leader, you are always in the invisible spotlight. People are watching, listening, and constantly drawing conclusions about what it all means. Proactively communicate how you measure success and consistently Connect the Dots between your actions and your underlying intent. The more you do this, the less others will misunderstand your expectations and desired outcomes.

2. Set the right tone

Are you a leader who shields your group from the pressures that come from senior executives, or does it filter straight through you to your team? Recognize that how you show up sets the tone for the team. What do you look and sound like when you are under stress? Ask someone to give you feedback if you are unsure. Be mindful that your energy, positive or negative, can be contagious.

3. Create a clear line of sight

Help others see how what they do on a daily basis ties to the bigger picture. Give them specific feedback that allows them to understand how they are making a difference in the context of the overall business strategy and direction. To take it one step further, point out what they should keep, start, and stop doing to be more effective.

Think about how you want to show up and how you want others to view your leadership. Spending even a minute to consider this will help you take a more strategic approach.

 

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

 

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Do You Know What Really Differentiates You?

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As I have coached high performing leaders over the years, I can’t help but notice some common themes. As they move up the ladder, sometimes they take for granted how hard it would be for someone to fill their shoes. Or they underestimate the value of their perspective, one that has been shaped by a unique set of personal and professional experiences.

So, today, I want to ask, “When is the last time you stopped to think about what makes you truly unique and valuable to an organization, whether it’s your current employer, a client or prospect?” If you’re like most people, you spend little to no time contemplating what differentiates you—unless you’re actively job hunting or lobbying for a pay increase or promotion. Yet going through this process can help you step up your game, leveraging your unique value in a way that serves you and your company.

To clarify what sets you apart, start by answering the three questions below. Remember that this won’t take the place of a more thorough personal leadership branding exercise, but it will get the ball rolling in the right direction.

What common themes do you see in the type of work others ask you to do?

Sometimes it takes other people repeatedly pulling you into certain types of projects or opportunities before you notice that what you bring to the table is unique and valued. Think about some of your experiences over the past six to nine months. What jumps out at you?

What have you heard others say about your work?

What do others value most about your work? I want you to think about it from two vantage points, what you do and how you do it. Also consider what you have heard people consistently say, whether or not their feedback made it into your performance review.

What skills or perspective do you have that would be hard to replace?

Finally, get to the aspects that cannot be easily replicated, i.e., your unique approach, perspective, skills, or background. People often openly point these out when they initially meet or get to know you. So, think about conversations you have had with people who have known you for little time, as well as those who have known you for years. What have you heard them say?

It may help to start by asking a few people you trust for input. But even if you don’t, you should gain some insight from answering the questions yourself. If you want to take the exercise one step further, identify one small step to highlight or leverage your unique value, in the context of your career goals and what’s important to business.

Put More Power Into Your Communication Style

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Women sometimes undermine their own power in how they communicate. I see this time and again with my coaching clients, and I have made some of these mistakes myself.

Women often don’t realize how their communication style gets in their way or impacts how others view their leadership. Although women may have good intentions, those may not be apparent in their communication. I think this quote drives the point home: “We judge ourselves by our intent, but we judge others by their actions.” So, remember that your actions may be doing you a disservice, no matter how positive your intentions.

Let’s take a look at three common communication traps to see if any of them apply to you.

1.  Getting into the weeds.

Women often make the mistake of building up to their conclusions, rather than starting with the two or three key headlines. They often don’t realize how this can diminish their credibility. By taking everyone through the details first, they run the risk of losing their audience in a sea of information, or giving the impression that they can’t see the big picture or get out of the weeds. Remember you can always provide additional information if others need it — so lead with the headlines.

2.  Holding back.

Have you ever been in a meeting and never said a word? Perhaps it’s because you agreed with what others said and you didn’t see a need to convey that. Or maybe you didn’t want to be rude and talk over someone to get your point across. Or perhaps you simply wanted to respect everyone else’s time and not prolong an already long meeting. Whatever your rationale, what did your participation (or lack thereof) convey to others? Did your presence really make a difference?

So next time, speak up! Before you walk into that meeting or jump on that conference call, take five minutes to anticipate what will be discussed and develop your point of view. This will make it easier to dive right in, contribute to the discussion, and get your voice heard.

3.  Treading too softly.

Women sometimes use a tone of voice or language that reduces their power and influence. Their voice may take on a higher pitch at the end of a sentence, giving the impression that they’re asking a question rather than making a statement with a strong sense of conviction. They may speak too quietly, or use words that communicate indecisiveness: “I think”; “I guess”; and so on.

So, pay attention to what you say and how you say it. To get a better sense of how your communication comes across, ask people you trust for feedback so you know what to watch for.

The good news is that you can address these issues through minor tweaks in your communication. Identify one small step you will take this week to put more power into your communication style. Remember that small steps can lead to big results.

Put Your Wisdom to Work

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I’ve noticed a theme that keeps emerging with my clients and others I meet. I’ve talked at length with several people about the importance of thinking big—and beyond our selves. In the midst of day-to-day life, it can be easy to forget how many people have helped us along the way, personally and professionally, and how much we have to offer.

So, instead of writing a full article on this subject, I want to challenge you to think about how you will put the power of your knowledge and wisdom to work to help someone else.

Take a look at the four questions below to get your wheels turning.

  1. Who do you see struggling that could use your support?

  2. Who do you see repeating the same mistakes because no one will give them the feedback they need to break the cycle?

  3. Who could benefit from your influence, perspective, expertise or contacts?

  4. What have you been excited about getting involved in that you just haven’t taken action on

So, before you dive back into your day, identify one thing you will do this week to pay it forward, leveraging your unique value and perspective. You might be surprised at how much you get from the experience.

The Value of Being “Speechless”

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Once I lost my voice to the point of a whisper. It was truly a first for me. As an extrovert and someone who provides coaching and consulting services, it was so hard to refrain from talking. To add another interesting dimension, I also had my 6-year-old son solo that weekend, so writing down what I wanted to say wasn’t an option — unless of course I wanted to limit myself to simple three-letter or four-letter words!

So, between losing my voice and starting off that week teaching coaching skills to a group of leaders, it reminded me of two simple but important ideas relevant to leadership.

1.Notice themes in your nonverbal communication.

Sometimes we forget how much we communicate without ever uttering a word. Whether it’s that scowl on your face, the hand on your hip, or that big smile — you constantly send messages. And the nonverbal cues speak so much louder than words, carrying much more weight if there’s a “disconnect” between the two.

So, right now, take a minute to think about what you are communicating on a day-to-day basis. Do you constantly look rushed, stressed out, or too busy to stop and have a conversation? How do your nonverbal messages align with your leadership brand (i.e., what you want to be known for as a leader)? If you are unsure about what you’re communicating nonverbally, ask for feedback from people you trust.

2.Recognize how the simple act of listening can propel things forward.

During the session I facilitated, I helped leaders practice coaching skills that they can apply to any role or situation. As you might expect, we focused on listening as one of those critical skills. Through various coaching scenarios and interactive role play, the leaders focused on:

  • giving their undivided attention

  • being “in the moment”

  • listening with genuine curiosity

  • withholding judgment as they listened

As we talked about the experience, several leaders mentioned how listening in this way can make a huge difference because the other person feels heard. They went on to say how taking this approach generated more engagement, opened the other person up to exploring solutions, and ultimately helped them take action faster.

Think about this for a minute. As a leader, if your team members feel that you are willing to listen and care about their perspectives, they will get more engaged in solving their own problems — giving you more capacity to work on other priorities.

So, right now, look at the questions below to assess how effectively you listen:

  • How often do you multi-task as others are talking?

  • How much do you focus on how you would solve the person’s problem or what you would say next while the other person is talking?

  • How much do you REALLY pay attention to the person’s tone of voice, energy, nonverbal cues, and words?

Hopefully these two simple reminders have made you pause, as I did that week, to consider a small tweak you’d like to make. I urge you to identify one small step you‘ll take in the next five days to align your nonverbal communication with your leadership brand or to fine tune your listening skills. Remember, small steps can lead to big results.

What’s Your Impact?

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Every day we engage with people from all walks of life in our professional and personal lives. Each interaction results in an exchange of energy, information, and ideas—positive and negative. Through the following three questions, I challenge you today to think about the impact you have on others.

What kind of energy are you giving off?

First, are you the kind of person who brings a conversation to a halt with your “healthy dose of realism” that others might call pessimism, or are you someone that people receive positive energy from? As you go through your day, notice how people respond to you by observing their body language, tone and actions. Recognize that some of their reactions may be more about them than you, but others may be directly related to what you are saying and doing. By paying attention more closely, you may notice some important patterns.

How do you impact results?

Next, ask yourself how the company or others benefit from your involvement or participation, whether you’re participating in a meeting or on a conference call. What do you typically contribute? Are you the person that “hangs back” or dives right in with your ideas? How much do you focus on moving things forward versus staying below the radar or just trying to wade through? Even if you’re “showing up” to participate, are you actually adding value?

What do others take from your behavior?

To bring the last point home, I want to share something from a meeting I was facilitating with an executive women’s group last week. We talked about how leaders are always in an “invisible spotlight.” In other words, people are constantly watching them, noticing what they are doing and drawing their own conclusions.

So, whether you realize it or not, you are sending indirect messages with everything you do. What are yours? Is it that you’re overwhelmed and need to be managed carefully or you might make life miserable for everyone? Or are you that unwavering leader that can provide direction and guidance consistently no matter what is going on? Recognize that small actions can add up to big messages when you put them all together.

Remember that you have an impact on everyone you interact with, but you do have a choice about what kind of impact you want have. So be intentional and purposeful about it and make sure that what you do reinforces your leadership brand and aligns with your values.

So, what one small step will you take this week to have the type of impact that’s important to you and your team?

The Power of Simply Noticing

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Most of us are so busy each day, going from one thing to the next and shifting across the many roles we play (colleagues, leaders, mentors, or parents), that in the midst of it all, we may overlook the opportunities right in front of us. So, this week, I would like you to try the exercise of “simply noticing.” As you’re sitting in that next meeting or conference call, pay attention to the following:

1. How You Are Showing Up

What thoughts are running through my head?

You may be thinking to yourself:

  • “I really don’t want to be here.”

  • “These meetings are always run poorly.”

  • I have way too much to do, and this meeting is a waste of my time.”

  • “Maybe I can leave early. Will anyone care?”

How do those thoughts affect how I am participating?

Jot down what you’re doing or not doing:

  • I’m watching the clock, doodling, and am disengaged.

  • I am not giving any thought to how I can really add value and move the discussion forward. I just want this to end.

  • I’m planning my escape.

What’s the message I’m indirectly sending others?

Whether you realize it or not, you are always communicating something. Sometimes it can be far from what you intend. Continuing with the scenario above, here are some potential messages you may be sending:

  • My time is more important than yours.

  • What you care about doesn’t matter to me.

  • I am not willing to roll up my sleeves and get in the game. I just want to sit on the sidelines.

2. How Others Are Showing Up

In addition to noticing what you’re doing, paying attention to group dynamics can tell you volumes. To help you glean more information, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are the informal leaders and influencers in this group?

  • Who seems aligned with whom?

  • What does each person seem to really care about in this discussion?

  • What does the body language and energy level of each person tell you?

3. What It All Means

Now that you’ve had a chance to “simply notice” what’s going on around you, take the time to think about what it means – even if it’s just for five or ten minutes.

  • What actions do you want to take as a result of your observations?

  • In your next meeting, how do you want to show up instead?

  • What can you do to reinforce what you want others to know about you and the value you bring?

  • How can you maximize the opportunities in that next meeting, even if you do consider it a waste of your time?

This week, I challenge you to simply notice what’s going on around you, even if it’s in just one meeting, and identify an action step you would like to take. You may be surprised at how quickly it changes your perspective. Remember that small steps can lead to big results.

© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Strategies to Create a High Performing Team

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Whether you are forming a new team for a specific project or leading an existing team, there are some very practical things you can do as a leader to develop a high-performing team. Here are four simple strategies to consider.

1. Toot your own horns

In the early stages, create a forum for team members to share their strengths and past experiences. This can be as simple as taking some time in a team meeting. Although some may be reluctant to toot their own horns, ask each person to share what she wants others to know or understand about her background and skills, and how that information can be useful to the team. This will help team members reach back into their past experiences, be more intentional about applying those experiences, and understand the variety and richness of the team’s collective capabilities.

2. Use the team experience to enable individual goals

Take time with each individual to understand what he wants to get from his participation on the team in the context of his professional goals. This will create more ownership and accountability — for you and for your team members — as they identify what they want to get out of the team experience, and as you proactively use this information to give them exposure to the areas of expressed interest.

3. Prevent silos

Help people see beyond their areas of responsibility and notice relationships across the team. Try this simple exercise called “Visiting New Lands” to have your team walk in each other’s shoes. This can apply to a department with different functional areas or an entire team with different areas of responsibility. Start by taping off and labeling a section of the floor for each functional area. Then pick a functional area to start with and have everyone physically stand in it together. Then ask all members of the team except for the people who work in that function to collectively answer the two questions below as if they worked there (e.g., if standing in the Finance section, everyone but the Finance team members would answer these questions as if they worked in Finance):

1. What are your top three challenges?

2. What are your top three priorities?

After everyone has answered the questions for that particular area, the team members who do work in that functional area can share their actual challenges and priorities. Then move to the next area and repeat the exercise until you have discussed each area. This exercise can provide invaluable insight into each functional area, highlight common themes across the entire team, create empathy within the team, and ignite the team’s commitment to helping one another.

4. Drive alignment through team goals

Last but not least, don’t underestimate the importance of having a common definition of success for your team as a whole — i.e., team goals and guidelines. This will allow you to drive alignment within the team and depersonalize differences of opinion by allowing the deciding factor to be whether something enables or detracts from the team’s goals.

As you know, there are many strategies to develop a high-performing team — and many of these may be reminders of what you already know. I want to challenge you to put one of these into play over the next month, if you haven’t already.

 

© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.