Like many consultants, I sometimes struggle to follow the great advice I give other people. Okay, more than sometimes. The whole ‘physician, heal thyself’ thing comes along like a spiritual two-by-four upside my head pretty often.
But the situation where ‘do as I say, not as I do’ really gets my goat is during a leadership development engagement when the boss is uninterested or disengaged from the effort.
And I’m not talking about one-and-done engagements (I don’t do those). These are six- to twelve-month, multiple group- and individual-session engagements, so there are some talented people doing heavy lifting trying to be better leaders. But I know it will be an uphill slog when the CXO who signs my check wants the team to improve but doesn’t want to be involved.
For instance, a few years back I worked with the team of a CXO who complained that everyone – despite his best efforts – suffered from the same leadership shortcomings. It bears mentioning that these senior managers had exactly two things in common: they had the same boss, and they all breathed air.
I politely suggested to the CXO that if it smelled like dog crap everywhere he went, he should probably check his shoe, after which he made it clear that he was NOT one of the people who needed coaching.
You’ve heard the old saw: “What if I develop my people and they leave?” “But what if you don’t and they stay?”
It was de ja vu all over again during a follow-up phone conversation with an exec about an additional engagement with some of his bright-and-shineys. After he assured me that everything was going great, he said something that could have come from a Wall Street movie spoof (and I’m not making this up). He said he had neither the time nor the inclination to do leadership development.
At least he was truthful.
Now, I’m not claiming to be able to waltz in and waive my magic around and “fix” a team’s problems or instantly improve their leadership skills, but it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out what’s behind his department’s struggles.
For Pete’s sake, you don’t have to have an advanced degree or a special certification to develop leaders in your organization (I use my PhD to plant fence posts). You just have to be smart enough to realize that it isn’t what you do as a senior leader that makes you successful. It’s the efforts of the people who work for you. No success for them = no success for you.
And I’m okay if you don’t want to get your hands dirty making positive and lasting changes in your organization by developing your people. That’s not everyone’s forte, and there are plenty of senior leaders who are above that kind of touchy-feely stuff anyway. After all, I’m sure everyone at C-level models the behaviors they want to see in their employees. (That’s sarcasm if you missed it.)
But someone has to, because doing nothing isn’t a reasonable option. If your company doesn’t have a leadership skills development process that produces measurable leadership improvement, please, PLEASE hire someone from the outside who can help.
Oh, and senior leadership involvement in the process isn’t optional, either, unless no one’s serious about development in the first place.
So how about it, leaders? Are you intentionally engaged in developing your people, or are you going to hire someone who will be? Because doing nothing isn’t a C-Level option.
In my many years of experience growing, coaching and training leaders, I’ve discovered that it’s seldom talent… or training… or give-a-shit… that interferes with a leader’s success…, at all but the senior-most (the senior-most) level.
It’s reinforcement. Or, more appropriately, the lack thereof. Managers are trained, facilitated and coached, then return to the barren wasteland of their workplace, left to fend for themselves amid the hyenas, badgers and cape buffalos.
Identifying appropriate leadership behaviors is certainly valuable. Ensuring learners can understand and assimilate those behaviors… equally important. Senior leadership reinforcing those desired behaviors… priceless.
“In behavioral psychology, reinforcement is a consequence applied that will strengthen an organism’s future behavior whenever that behavior is preceded by a specific antecedent stimulus.”
Thank you, Dr. Pavlov.
In consulting terms, he means “When you ring the bell, the dog slobbers.”
And before any Psychologist wannabes (or the real deal) start to educate me on classical vs. operant conditioning, cut me some slack. It’s newsletter article, and I’m trying not to induce an eye-rolling coma.
Now, let’s be clear. Reinforcement isn’t reminding. Reinforcement is used to specifically connect awareness to execution. Or to quote the slobberin’ dog Doc: It’s “a consequence applied that will strengthen… future behavior.”
Like all things necessary and valuable, there’s a process involved, or in this case, four “elements:”
1 – Set expectations. And make ‘em clear, using specific, plain language. Employees sometimes have some difficulty doing their basic jobs; adding “mind-reading” to their description is just plain unfair. And by clear, I mean the employee should be able to read it back to you, and you agree “that completely covers it.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked if someone understands the expectations, and being told “well, they sure should,” based on peripheral, related discussions. I’m not talking hints, clues or innuendo here—I’m saying use simple, concise English language.
Unless of course you don’t speak English.In which case… ah, never mind.
2 – Follow-up. Make your expectations clear, then back up a bit and give employees room to do their job, exhibiting the very behaviors you are reinforcing. That doesn’t mean “never look back;” to inspect what you expect isn’t micro-management, it’s just good management.
3 – Consequences. Good and bad. Negative consequences generally sound like discipline or punishment and can serve as a learning opportunity. The purpose is to associate a behavior with something unpleasant, so they will not repeat that action (and others may see they are not supposed to act that way either). Positive consequences are still in response to an action, but this time, it’s a pleasant response to positive behavior.
Often times, when we give a negative consequence, we are actually reinforcing a behavior because we are giving that outburst unqualified attention, so be careful here.
4 – Modeling desired behavior. If you want someone to behave a certain way, the gold standard is to make sure they see you behaving that way. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Actually, it is, though we oft-times manage to screw it up. We’ll promote positive motivation, then threaten someone because “it’s a special situation.” We’ll say we want no profanity, then let it slip because “we were provoked.” We’ll talk about timely meeting attendance while justifying our “hectic schedule.” No excuses. Model it, or don’t expect it. So, we reinforce to get the actual behaviors desired. Consistency, awareness, feedback, and a helping manner (we want them to grow and improve) are all essential.
“Leadership is about influence and inspiration.” – Everyone Who Knows Anything
Who has the most influence on the mood in your workplace?
If you’re part of the leadership – formal or informal – you do.
Especially if your mood reveals your anxieties about the organization or job security, or your lack of compassion for those struggling to meet your expectations.
In one of my favorite comic strips ever, Calvin sums it up nicely: “Nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around a little bit.”
Around the mid-point of my Air Force career, a mentor remarked one day, “You’re just not prone to happiness, are you?” After he had my 8-year-old daughter explain what a Marsh-wiggle was, we talked about the effect it was having on my Airmen. I got his point, and I’d like to think I’m remembered differently by those who served with me in my later years.
Like leading by example, you don’t have a choice about impacting the office climate with the mood you’re emoting. You may not be aware that you’re doing it, but that’s a matter of your emotional intelligence, not reality on the ground.
No, I’m not trying to resurrect the old myth about leaders having to be demonstrably charismatic – there’s plenty to evidence to debunk that; but from the C-suites to the referent leader far down in the organization, others are taking their positive and negative emotional cues from you. This is anything but new information, and yet we could all benefit from the occasional friendly reminder.
A huge part of a leader’s job is inspiring others to follow in pursuit of a vision. You make it really hard for them to be inspired if they don’t think you’re inspired yourself. Reflect for a minute on a couple of the best leaders you’ve known – were they positive and encouraging in a way that made you want to do more and better, or did their interactions feel perfunctory and their tone and manner show worn places in the veneer covering their anxiety?
Okay, here’s a test: we all come to work at less than our best once in a while. On the rare occasion you do – regardless of whether you’re bothered by something work-related or something that happened outside the office – do people ask you what’s wrong? If not, you should be worried. It means they’re either used to you being in a bad mood, or you’re not as approachable as you should be.
If that strikes too close to home, stop it. Get your fire back… people need to believe that you like being their leader.
I can’t guarantee your motivation and authentic positive outlook will fill your workplace with unicorns, butterflies, and rainbows. But it won’t hurt. On the other hand, I can assure you that your dour mood directly affects your employees’ morale and engagement.
Your folks deserve your best. Are you giving it to them?
Ok, so maybe the Beatles reference was a bit much…
We were two companies, someone decided merger was a good thing… then just one big, happy family… right??
Bain Capital. McKinsey. Deloitte… don’t take just my word for it; the single biggest reason for merger or acquisition failure is NOT costs, lack of synergy, shortage of capital, incompatible strategy, etc.
It’s people. Failure to integrate cultures, directions, leadership and communities within an organization result in more failures than any market disapproval could muster.
Pay attention here; you’re paying big bucks for – usually – more than a simple asset. Realistically, even simple “asset purchases” are hoping for more than a simple Return on Asset; we’re always hoping for bigger, better returns that can only happen through the newly combined workforce talent. Again, “people.”
Let’s get right to it. I’m assuming you’ve competently determined that the merger or acquisition is a logical addition to your business. The technical part is fairly simple… a bunch of spreadsheets, a month or two of due diligence to verify the lofty promises, assurances, and statements from management. Now, let’s work on the more fickle side…
The most important thing to remember is communication.
Frequent, informative, helpful communications. The initial merger time is the most critical, since many of the employees in the acquired company will “overthink” the event, and may believe they will be summarily replaced. Or, more important to key performers, that they’ll lose their “key performer” status.
Frankly, you may actually WANT to lose some of them, but don’t you want the opportunity, at least, to have some input to who stays and who goes?
If you intend to make cuts, announce them and do them quickly. The longer it takes, the worse the retention results. Be sure, if staff cuts will occur, that they occur on both “sides” of the merger equation, if you really want a successful post-merger story.
Read this closely: the longer you take to make the “who stays and goes” determination, the more high performers you lose. It really is that simple. Mediocre and poor performers simply fret endlessly, duck for cover, and hope to go unnoticed.
High performers don’t look at life – or their careers – that way.
And they have no intention of waiting around to see if you’ll give them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. These people are infinitely employable, have probably got feelers out already, and in the absence of anyone helping them do differently, will look out for their own well-being.
Even to your detriment.
Next, assess the acquired company’s culture and strengths, and make the determination on what “works” for you, and what doesn’t. Once you determine what the “combined” culture will look like, no compromise — on either “side.”
Read that again. No Compromise. On the bus or off the bus. No one rides along for sightseeing. No one – particular if influential and/or in leadership – gets to publicly buck the “new deal. Like the three musketeers, it’s “All for One!”
Remember — and this is ultra-important — there can only be ONE culture. Anything else will lead to fragmented actions, loyalties, and lack of direction.
Finally, be frank and open with the process. The worst thing that could happen is that the acquired employees lose trust in your integration process – they already ‘suspect’ you may not have their best interests at heart.
If my concepts above aren’t specific enough, here’s some detail on crafting a successful integration:
Create an employee integration plan immediately. It takes hours, not days, don’t dilly-dally. Communicate that plan to others (both ‘”sides”).
Execute to that plan immediately, quickly, and strongly. Patton was correct: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”Time is not on your side here. The longer it takes, the worse the outcome… guaranteed.
Decide where you’ll compromise — and where not — and hold firm.
Communicate, communicate, and over-communicate. Rinse and repeat. Even “nothing new to report” is better than silence.People fill ‘unknowns’ with their own “knowns,” and they are generally not the information you’d prefer them using to make decisions.
Clearly define roles, accountabilities, reporting relationships, and performance expectations. It’s the very core of the employee agreement.
“It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” Don’t declare integration ‘victory’ too soon.Prematurely hailing success has killed many an integration, as a couple of key people/groups look around and say “not from where I sit, bubba.”
Good luck. Fun but challenging stuff.
Come to think of it, most of this applies to any substantial organizational change effort as well. I’ll be damned; surely must be just a coincidence…
So, just got that big promotion, eh? Now, you’re “It.” Big Shot. Grand Poobah. Boss Hog. El Jefe. Shiznit. The Big Cheese. Uppity-Muckety-Muck. She who must be obeyed. Kahuna.
Sounds great, right? Finally, you’re a CXO, with all the rights, privileges, honors and benefits occurring thereto.
So I say, Congrats! Finally, you have all that extra money, private elevator, fancy business card and a big, honkin’ corner office… you big LOSER!
Wait, what?? If I have just been promoted, why are you calling me a Loser?? What the hell have I lost?
Funny you should ask. I hate to be a buzz-kill, but you may want to put down that promotion drink for a second. You see, when ascending into senior-most leadership, you do lose some things.
You lose the ability to solely determine your success. Your success now depends almost entirely on others’ efforts and successes. Hint: this should be a clear indicator that their success is now your #1 priority.
You have lost the ability to suggest. Unfortunately, at your new lofty stratum, suggestions sound more like orders than random ideas. Surprisingly, nearly all your suggestions will be implemented, post-haste. Complete with “I thought that’s what you wanted.”
You lose the ability to consistently rely on a decision-making safety net. This one is tougher to realize before you’re there. Until in the seat, most of us don’t really understand the comfort we get from having others above us in the food chain to prevent our sheer stupidity from making the 6 o’clock news.
You have lost the ability to hold a grudge. Sure, remember how people perform and behave, but you must now be willing to forgive and forget. Or at a minimum, forgive and empower (again).
You lose the ability to vent outwardly to a crowd. No more temper tantrums when something breaks. Not that you should have been having them before, but…
You lose the ability to have a bad day. At least the ability to display that you’re having a bad day. Your followers need — and have the right to – you at your best.
You have lost the ability to not recognize that whenever your door opens, you’re on stage. The world (as you know it) is always watching; act accordingly.
You lose the ability to be “off-stage” with anyone with the same paycheck. I’m not saying you can’t hang out (though I do advise restraint), but while hanging out remember you’re still on stage. Some things done cannot be undone, nor can things seen be unseen.
Language—you lose the ability to use any of the following phrases:
S/He’ll get over it.
Titles don’t matter.
Just handle it.
Make it go away.
Because I said so.
I can’t deal with that right now.
That’s not the way we did it at XXX Company.
Finally, you have utterly lost the ability to take credit for anything that happens on your watch, unless you were the sole human responsible for every single step of the way. In which case, you’re being paid too much. Don’t feel too bad about this one; you’re still 100% accountable for all of your purview, including the screw-ups, oopsies, and “my bads.”
And yes, yes… before anyone picks one or two of these and comes up with the clever “…but Bill Gates doesn’t have a degree” exception, I do realize that some of these may not be as absolute a prohibition as I’ve described. Let’s agree, however, that overall some of our up-to-now behaviors must go the way of the dodo bird (or cash, customer service or fifty-cent coffee) when we achieve senior-most leadership levels.
This top-10 list isn’t meant to be discouraging or restrictive; it’s simply a fact that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Some of those responsibilities can be displayed as much by what you don’t do, as by what you do.
And take heart… the list of things you get to do is incredible. You get to influence careers and lives; you get to have a personal impact on people and organizations; you get to make meaningful decisions so that others may succeed… there are lots more, but we’ll save them for a sequel article.
As the leader of your team, who’s got your back? Are the people who work for and with you watching out for you, or do you find yourself covering your six to keep from being stabbed in the back?
A few years back, the “Got Your 6” campaign launched to unite nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners to “create opportunities for our military veterans to successfully convert their leadership and operational training into positive civilian roles.” They had some great public service announcements that explained how “got your six” means we’ve got our veterans’ backs as they transition from military service to civilian life.
The PSAs also reminded me of lessons I learned in pilot training about how to keep the enemy from maneuvering to my ultimate position of vulnerability: my six o’clock position – the blind spot directly behind me where I wouldn’t recognize I was about to be killed. Translated into office politics: the blind spot where someone is about to make us look stupid or incompetent without us realizing it.
“Covering your six” is what pilots have wingmen for. In aerial combat, wingmen fly behind and above (or below) their lead to make sure no one sneaks up on them. Pretty easy to apply that as an analogy in the corporate world: who’s going to watch your back in the dog-eat-dog of self-sufficiency and watching out for yourself?
Your teammates, that’s who. The ones you’ve built trusting relationships with and know you have their backs as well.
When leaders are intentional about creating an environment of trust and collaboration in the office, coworkers watch out for each because they want the organization to succeed, and they don’t want to see someone they care about get hurt. It’s much more difficult to blindside an entire group of people watching out for each other than it is an individual outside the circle of trust.
I think it’s harder today to build trusting relationship in the workplace. Not impossible, but certainly more difficult than in the past. Because we all have so much information available about EVERYTHING, many have lost trust and confidence in historically reliable institutions like the news media, government, politics and popular culture. As we regularly question others’ ulterior motives (and others question ours), creating an environment of trust can be quite challenging.
Trust = integrity x compassion x competence
You build that environment of trust by having non-negotiable integrity and demonstrating you both care more about your employees than you do yourself (compassion), and you can and will use their efforts for the good of the organization (competence). You instill trust only if your actions are consistent with your words – assuming you have good intentions, of course.
“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it here. If you’re one who talks about others behind their backs, you can assume you are also being talked about. If there is even a hint that you might sacrifice a coworker for your benefit or to avoid blame, you’re headed for a Julius Caesar ending.
By now you’re thinking I must have grown up with rainbows and butterflies all around me. Far from it… I know competition can be fierce, and insecure or power-hungry people backstab from a variety of motivations. And I’ve certainly worked in places where the motto was something like “it’s not enough that I succeed; others must fail.” But in my experience, not having someone you trust to cover your six can be fatal to your career… figuratively AND literally.
Creating a culture of trust isn’t a passive activity; you can’t focus on helping your employees achieve great things if you’re always sitting in the corner with your back to the wall. If it’s not already a habit, you have to be intentional about getting out there and doing your best to make others successful, trusting them the way they trust you, and having their six.