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5 Critical First Steps for Inspired Leadership That Will Surprise You

This is the first in a series of leadership posts in our Get A CLUE series. CLUE stands for Conscious Leadership Uncovering Excellence. The series covers fundamental areas in leadership such as Personal Resourcefulness, Presence, Building Trust, and Collaboration. Our aim is to support leaders in developing their capacity to create engaged, collaborative, and thriving workforces.

Toxic Leader We were hired once by a budding technology company with a promising product and a management team of bright, committed individuals. The company needed to shift from developing their now proven software to selling it. That required silos to come down and for teams to really pull together. It called for transparency and collaboration. Unfortunately the CEO was not ready for that level of openness. Although he said he had an open-door policy and you could come to him with anything, no one could challenge him without serious repercussions. As a result, most of his best talent left, our engagement concluded early, and we doubt to this day that he understands his leadership gaps or the true reasons for their under-performance.

bad day at office Cliff HutsonForbes quotes a recent Accenture study that provides evidence to the axiom "most employees don’t leave their jobs; they leave their bosses". Of employees surveyed,

  • 31% don’t like their boss
  • 31% experience a lack of empowerment
  • 35% are affected by internal politics
  • 43% experience a lack of recognition

A similar survey conducted by the Gallup Organization reveals that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged — 29% in North America. However, we know that engaged employees are the lifeblood of their organizations. Companies with high employee engagement report significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings. They also have less turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents. These companies outperform the rest on virtually all measures of success!

Photo courtesy of Anne Davis 773 on Flickr Regardless of the approach to address these concerns, the foundation for success begins with the leader. Our anecdote above describes leaders we encounter who move up the ranks using a 20th century command & control model, where promotions go to the rock star, knowledge is hoarded, and internal competition rules. This style of leadership is insufficient for the innovation and agility needed in the 21st century.

Part 1 of this series begins with a focus on leader self-awareness, the first critical step in the process of creating a thriving, engaged, high performing workforce. We therefore propose these five action-steps for leaders:

  1. Identify your strengths and leverage them while accounting for your relative weaknesses. In today’s environment, it’s more effective to assemble and develop a great leadership team than to find a gifted leader with all of the requisite strengths.
  2. Be open to discovering your blind spots. We all have them (if you don’t – that’s a blind spot!). But to discover them we need to rely on others. That requires humility and vulnerability. If you’re not ready to get honest feedback from others, work with a coach who will create a safe space for you to grow.
  3. Remember, “you’re not the teacher, you’re the lesson.” Regardless of what you say, it’s your actions, or inactions, that will speak volumes and generate the assumptions within your culture about what is and isn’t possible.
  4. Be clear on the whys. Why do you want to lead? Why does your company exist? What is your organization’s purpose? Why do you believe what you believe? As author and speaker Simon Sinek has said, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it. What you do simply proves what you believe.”
  5. Know and live your core values. Values-based decisions create clarity from complexity. When an organization knows and lives its core values, employees are empowered and act congruently. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

In our next post we’ll discuss moving from leader to leadership team. As the boomer generation grays out and the millennials step in, distributed leadership becomes a necessity, not an option. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear what these insights triggered for you. And if you can’t wait and want to take a deeper dive, or discuss the implications in your organizations, contact us and have a conversation. We’re passionate about creating new perspectives for breakthrough results!

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David Brown and MasterCoaches help leaders and their teams deliver great results through enhanced leadership, engagement, trust and communication. We're about creating great places to work, where people feel alive, on purpose, and connected to their greatest potential.

Democratizing Employee Development

General Electric’s former CEO Jack Welch famously once said,

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.

If that’s true, why do so many organizations — perhaps including yours — evaluate employees purely on performance instead of their ability to learn, and translate the learning to action?

We know that tracking performance without regard to how it is achieved is problematic. We’ve all known someone who gets results but leaves destruction in their wake, and is toxic to the organization. Some organizations have tried to mitigate this by looking at competencies — how someone does what they do, but this tends to be secondary, most organizations are focused on just getting the results.

What if you shifted your whole evaluation and reward structure to focus on how people are applying what they learn to challenges they face at work?

What would this look like?

  • You would document and measure how learning has been leveraged — including providing a way for employees to share their learning experiences and tell stories about how their training, mentoring, coaching or other experiences have helped them with a challenge on the job.
  • You would reward those employees who show they are making the most of available resources by providing them access to additional opportunities (assignments, projects, job changes) and resources (experts, mentors, coaches, training courses and programs). For example, an employee who shares the story of how mentoring helped them make a leap to a new role is a good future candidate for executive coaching.
  • You would make access to high potential and leadership programs contingent on demonstrating ability to learn, and would make the process transparent and accessible to all.
  • You would encourage employees to act as experts and mentors, and make it easy for them to connect with people they can help.

What effects would this have?

  • You could measure how the organization is improving its ability to learn so the organization can “learn how to learn”.
  • Employee engagement would improve significantly because you’d be providing clear learning opportunities and development paths.
  • You would have a continuously reinforcing development loop — truly creating a learning culture in the organization.

Can you change the way you evaluate performance? Is your organization already headed on this path? Can you achieve the ultimate competitive advantage?

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Scott Simpson helps organizations effectively leverage technology to assess and develop talent.

Leadership Tenets

I have been a facilitator for NASA’s Mid-Level Leader Program (MLLP) for the last three years.  On April 2, the fourth cohort graduated from the program.  David Radzanowski, Chief of Staff at NASA gave the Graduation Address to the graduating class.  I asked Dave if I could share the “leadership tenets” he offered in his speech.  Here they are.  I find them to be incredibly profound and practical.

  1. Always assume positive intent – most people are trying to do what they think is right.  While we may not always agree on methods or outcomes, most people are trying to add value.
  2. Always strive to be uncomfortable – to grow, you need to challenge yourself. Find the stretch assignment and volunteer for it.
  3. Delegate to the point of negligence – you need to work your way out of your job. So, trust your team and challenge them whenever possible.
  4. Failure is an option – be innovative and intuitive.  When mistakes happen, learn from them.
  5. Take care of your team – give them the credit for successes and take the blame for mistakes.  Walk around and talk with them on their turf. Your office is boring.
  6. Take care of yourself – schedule time for yourself and don’t let work interfere. Time with your family and friends is as important if not more than your career.  No one wishes on their death bed that they had attended that meeting they missed.

Sincere thanks to Mr. Radzanowski for allowing me to use his tenets.  I hope you find them as helpful as I do. Dave concluded with a quote from President John Quincy Adams.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more – you are a leader.”
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John Poirier helps client organizations develop and implement meaningful solutions to Human Resources Development challenges.